BACK in the 60s our then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, coined the phrase “a week is a long time in politics”. Sometimes an hour can feel like an eternity. Anyone who watched Theresa May’s leader’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference last week must have longed, as she no doubt did, for the cringe-worthy ordeal to end.

Although I am no fan of the Maybot (as she has been cruelly but all too accurately lampooned) many of us must have felt a twinge of pity for her as slogans literally collapsed behind her back and P45s fluttered. None of it made an inspiring sight.

Which is a shame, because her central idea - what she dubbed the British Dream, possibly inspired by the American Dream - is actually very worthy of debate. As the old song, Happy Talk, goes: ‘You’ve got to have a dream, or how you going to make your dream come true?’ James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. Well no one can disagree with that aspiration.

Then you look around at the state of the country and wonder when dreams actually turn into nightmares for many of our fellow citizens.

If you are one of the 3.7 million children currently living in poverty in the UK (which represents over a quarter of all children, 1.7 million of those children living in severe poverty) the word “nightmare” is not necessarily an exaggeration.

Especially as 63 per cent of children living in poverty are in a family where someone works.

Because the sad truth is that in our current version of the British Dream, working your way towards prosperity doesn’t work for everyone. We are a society deeply troubled by inequality when it comes to who gets properly rewarded for their labour. Bankers who impoverish us all, for example, are treated to lavish bonuses. Meanwhile, care workers who give their all and comfort the most vulnerable among us are rewarded with a measly minimum wage.

Part of the problem with our lack of opportunity “for each according to ability or achievement”, as Adams put it, is that we don’t invest in vocational training the way more successful European countries do.

One recent example in the news is hugely relevant for York. Over the last few decades the industries that once sustained thousands of manufacturing jobs in our city have been gradually replaced by the service sector. Very many of those jobs are in the hospitality industry: hotels, restaurants, bars etc.

However, we face a problem. Nationally, 12 per cent of the workforce in the hospitality sector is from the EU, including 75 per cent of all waiting staff. A few months ago Pret a Manger revealed that only one in 50 job applicants were British. But as is becoming plain, EU citizens are drifting back to more prosperous, welcoming countries post-Brexit.

The solution is training an army of British-born waiters, chefs and baristas as soon as possible. Just as we should train battalions of nurses, midwives and doctors.

Unfortunately the British Hospitality Association has been forced to write to ministers as it emerges that a planned qualification in hospitality will be delayed until 2022.

This one small example says it all. As a country we need to invest urgently in our professional and vocational education if we are to compete on the world stage. That will cost money that can only come from wealthy individuals and corporations no longer being allowed to evade their tax responsibilities.

In addition we need to truly start investing in regional development outside London and the South East. York and the North are hungry for green, well-paid, hi-tech manufacturing jobs.

The opportunities out there are tremendously exciting in a world of astonishing new technology. But building a sustainable British Dream actually means we should stop expecting individuals to sink or swim on their own. Now is a time for shared visions based on communities, co-operation and mutual self-interest. Only then can “life... be better and richer and fuller for everyone”.