Friday, 28 March 2014

Warning: Do not be young

More than 30 years ago, the soon-to-be Labour party leader Neil Kinnock warned voters not to fall ill, and not to grow old, if Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party were returned to power in the 1983 general election.
It is usually forgotten that in that same speech -- one of the most memorable of post-war British politics -- he also warned voters not to be young. It's a warning that Ed Miliband might well consider reviving in the run-up to the next election.
It's time to turn Wordsworth on his head -- in 2014 Britain it is not "very heaven" to be young; rather, it is the precise opposite. If you were careless enough to have been born in the eighties, nineties or noughties, well, tough. The likelihood is that you're going to end up worse off than your parents.
According to a BBC report this week, the amount of money being spent on young people's services in England over the past two years has been slashed by an extraordinary 36 per cent. In the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest in the country, the figure was 65 per cent. In Tameside, Stoke-on-Trent and Warrington, it was more than 70 per cent.
Ask inner city teachers what that means to young people who may already be struggling with family trauma, poverty and drug abuse. Ask social workers what it means not to be able to offer help to teenagers whose homes are places of danger, not of safety, and who are at serious risk of violence both at home and on the streets.
But of course few policy-makers do ask teachers or social workers. When ministers blithely talk of "several more years of austerity", they mean more cuts in spending which is meant to benefit those who need help most. They most definitely do not mean higher taxes for those earning obscene million pound salaries. When David Cameron and George Osborne solemnly assure us that "we are all in this together", they are vividly demonstating that satire still has a place in British politics.
And if you think I exaggerate, what other explanation can there be for the prime minister's apparent belief that what the country needs now is lower inheritance tax rates? According to the Financial Times, 94 per cent of people who died in 2010-11 left behind an estate that wasn't subject to the tax anyway -- but implementing a £1 million threshold, which is what Mr Cameron seems to have in mind, would cost the Treasury more than £3 billion. Peanuts it ain't.
In the words of the FT: "Ratcheting up the IHT threshold to £1m cannot be justified at present. Making this promise is good pre-election Conservative politics. Implementing it in these austere times would be socially unjust."
"Good pre-election Conservative politics." There's the key. Because it is pre-election politics that's driving government policy now -- just look at Mr Osborne's wizard wheeze of freeing up personal pension pots to enable older voters to spend their pensions how the hell they like.  These are ideas that have little to do with what's good for the country, but everything to do with what's good for the Conservative party.
Am I the only person who thinks there's something seriously wrong with having the minister who's in charge of economic policy, the chancellor of the exchequer, also in charge of the Tory party's election strategy? Might he not, just occasionally, be a tiny bit confused about exactly whose interests he's meant to be looking after? Even more so, if the Westminster gossip is to be believed, when he's also quietly preparing a campaign to be the next leader of his party.
 This government has been more than generous to older voters (I know, I should be suitably grateful). Older voters vote, of course: 76 per cent of them in the last election, compared to a mere 44 per cent of 18-24 year-olds. No surprise, then, that an election strategist might whisper in the ear of the chancellor of the exchequer, ie in his own ear: Be sure to be nice to the wrinklies.
Vulnerable teenagers tend not to turn up at MPs' surgeries to complain. Newspaper commentators and television pundits tend not to send their children to the schools where the most vulnerable children go. In other words, the young people who are having their safety net whipped away are largely unseen and unheard.
"Why should I vote?" asks the disaffected teenager. "What have politicians ever done for me?"
"Why should we help disaffected teenagers?" asks the steely-eyed election strategist. "They don't vote, anyway."
But they do have opinions. And every few years, they express them -- not at the ballot box but in the streets. This summer will mark the third anniversary of the urban riots that swept through many English towns and cities in 2011. I wish I believed that the angry young people who went on the rampage then have any less reason to be angry now.
I profoundly disagree with those who say that rioting is a legitimate form of political expression -- putting lives at risk and destroying other people's homes can never be justified. But I disagree equally profoundly with a political class that says young people don't matter because they don't vote.
They do matter. They're the future.


Richard said...

How I agree; I'm a 60+ year old but I fear for the future of the country and the young.

Unfortunately, I don't think any of the main parties have any real connection with 'real people' and certainly not the young.

Sure I'm pleased that benefits for the older generation have been, or are to be improved, but I'd rather some of this was directed to the younger folk to help them on.

I'd like to think the Bank of England and the FCA could do more to restrict lending to a more sensible 3 times earnings max, rather than just wringing their hands about the amounts being lent.

All in all I'm not too optimistic about the future under any of the likely governments we might get after next year's election. And if I were 20 or 30, I'd be even less so.

dceilar said...

I'm afraid there are too many selfish people out there who don't give a damn about other's suffering. As they as they're OK they don't give a stuff - as far as they are concerned the poor and the needy are selfish and greedy all the while the rich just get richer and richer. But the rich aren't greedy and selfish are they.

It will come to pass that these selfish people too will suffer. Cue Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone!