The British public debate is schizophrenic when it comes to excellence, and its ally, selection. Most socialists want the most stringent tests and selection to ensure the leading football and athletics teams in the country only contain the best sports people. They encourage vigorous selection, promotion on merit, tough training regimes, access to elite facilities, and differential treatment for the successful. No-one argues that the rest of us should be able to use the England training ground for our leisure sports, or be eligible to play for our national team based on a sense of justice and equality. We want the best and try to create and nurture the best.
When it comes to academic excellence many take a different view. If the many cannot go to the elite institutions,they demand changes by the elite institutions to accommodate more representatives of the many. If the standards of the elite top performers are too high, they criticise them for being stuck up and demand a different approach.
Creating a cadre of top scientists, lawyers, medics or other academically based professions requires the same approach to nurture, training and excellence as creating an elite sporting team. You want people who are motivated to be the best, and who know they are competing globally with the best in the world. You need elite libraries, laboratories and other facilities. You need the best teachers, just as the soccer stars need the best trainers.
Just as the future Wayne Rooney needs to practise his place kicks when his mates want the night off, so the future Nobel prize winner or leading lawyer needs to read another book and attend another seminar to reach top form. There is a price to success, and a prize for success. That is why some attempt it and others do not. If we want a more socially mobile country we have to acept the pursuit of excellence in the academic world as well as in the sporting world.
The British are more divided over business excellence. Some entrepreneurs capture the public imagination, and are forgiven for making themselves very rich at the same time as serving the public well. Others are pilloried for the trappings of their success. There is not the same uniform enthusiasm for the self made business person that you encounter in the USA. The successful business builder needs to be a careful politician as well, to avoid public disopprobrium of his success.