Labour: writing off their generation


1:45 pm - September 28th 2009

by Dave Osler    


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Listening to a group of young people shouting ‘Labour, Labour, Labour; out, out, out’ while marching past Brighton’s conference centre yesterday took me back to when I was the same sort of age. We had a similar chant, you see. But back in the 1980s, the slogan was aimed at Maggie.

Instantly recognisable was the intensity of the hate on display, which was clearly of the kind that will last a lifetime. My twentysomething animosity to the Conservatives has been enough to secure decades of commitment to the far left, and I don’t doubt that a whole layer of students, young workers and a million or so NEETs in 2009 are in pretty much the same frame of mind about the party of which I a member.

I’m assuming, if only from what I overhear apolitical workmates in a similar age bracket say, that this mood is generalised and not confined to the radicals that each successive decade inevitably throws up.

And frankly, New Labour might just as well have striven actively to cultivate the contempt of the young, as evidenced by everything imaginable from tuition fees to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the parliamentary expenses scandal.

Not trying to cause a big sensation. Just talking ‘bout their generation. If I still looked good in tight jeans and didn’t have to comb my hair in unusual directions to hide the bald spots, I’m sure I’d feel the same way too.

Any defence, justification or spurious apologetics for Labour I can offer – from the national minimum wage to my inimitable old git reminiscences of just how nasty Conservative government truly can be – are going to have little impact on people who were schoolkids 12 years ago.

For instance, I remember telling a keen teenage fan of house music how the Conservatives once tried to ban ‘repetitive beats’. He clearly found the idea amusing, but I doubt that the revelation is going to change the way he votes.

In recent posts I have detailed how New Labour has lost the north, and pointed to analysis that suggests it will be wiped out in Wales. For good measure, let me highlight this Evening Standard poll, which indicates that 17 of its 44 seats in London are set to go.

To lose regions such as this – the historic cradles of Labourism – is of course calamitous, but not necessarily irreversible. Lose an entire age group, on the other hand, and you can kiss government goodbye until another one comes of age. See you in a quarter of a century.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Don’t you know, it is the middle aged middle classes that matter…why care about the youth you’re ostracising to gain middle-english votes, it’s not like you’ll ever need their support.

I too cannot understand how governments can do so little to respect the next generations that come, whatever the colour that government may be. Like everything else, it seems, short sighted is taken as being the best way to govern.

See you.

And frankly, New Labour might just as well have striven actively to cultivate the contempt of the young, as evidenced by everything imaginable from tuition fees to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the parliamentary expenses scandal.

Excellent article Dave and I think you are right in much of what you say.

Anyone who can remember being young can probably remember rebelling against authority- it felt good regardless of the wisdom of that rebellion. And the other strand I am picking up at the moment is the hatred and disdain among the young for those in the Labour Party who thought it was acceptable, indeed who felt it was their duty, to try to get them to live their lives in ways that can be controlled and influenced by the state.

Ask Frank. Don’t eat junk food. Drink sensibly. Stub it out. Use a condom. Watch your speed.

That feeling has prompted part of the backlash against Labour.

As you say the problem is that Cameron thinks he knows what is best for us too……

I think you’re right that Labour are within an inch of wipeout, but it remains to be seen whether the long-term will be as grim as you expect. There seems to be a lot of doubt as to whether the Tories have really provided any alternative (other than being the ‘anything but Labour’ party) – whilst this is bad, because it shows the depth of dislike for Labour, I honestly think that the battle of ideas is still their to be won, by either side. In this sense, the future might well still be up for grabs, and Labour might well be in with more of a medium-term chance (maybe even short-term?) than current opinion polls would suggest.

Labour is going to lose. Well it had to happen eventually, and the UK’s parliamentary system is harsh on those who hold power for a long time.

Having said that, get over it. If you want to reduce the figure of 0.25 centuries (a tad pessimistic if I may say, even on the most doom laden scenarios) then stop crying into your ethically sourced organic soup, and start working. Nothing is enevitable, and the Tories are not guaranteed a large majority, nor a fair wind assuming they win. If Labour can get their act together, they could limit the damage, and the life expectancy of a Tory government.

As an unrepentant conservative on the other end of those protests you so fondly remember, I personally hope you ignore my advice and morosely accept defeat. But you dont have to you know.

Besides, if your right and the Lbour party is 25 years away from recovery, you could always vote Lib Dem.

For instance, I remember telling a keen teenage fan of house music how the Conservatives once tried to ban ‘repetitive beats’. He clearly found the idea amusing, but I doubt that the revelation is going to change the way he votes.

Amusing? Hilarious! Not quite true sadly, but then the best stories never are.

I agree with Dave’s point. I’m actually quite convinced Labour is at risk of not enetering government for at least another 15 years. Possibly longer.

Because, whereas during the previous Tory run of 18 years, Labour could say that they’d be different in power, this time -for a long time- they won’t have a leg to stand on while opposing the Tories. The Tories will say routinely “hypocrites! You did this too between 1997 and 2010!”, whether wars, winking at big business, tuition fees, privatisations, civil liberties etc.

On the other side, I must say that, until very recently (under IDS or Michael Howard) you’d routinely hear that the Conservatives were at risk of being wiped out and out of power forever. Things can change quickly and unexpectedly, as we’ve seen.

“And the other strand I am picking up at the moment is the hatred and disdain among the young for those in the Labour Party who thought it was acceptable, indeed who felt it was their duty, to try to get them to live their lives in ways that can be controlled and influenced by the state.

Ask Frank. Don’t eat junk food. Drink sensibly. Stub it out. Use a condom. Watch your speed.

That feeling has prompted part of the backlash against Labour.”

I don’t know which young people you have been talking to, but young people round my way hate Labour because they don’t have a job, and either have £000’s of debt from education or no education. Noone really gives a fuck about a few adverts.

“As you say the problem is that Cameron thinks he knows what is best for us too……”

No, the problem is that Cameron is going to make unemployment a hell of a lot worse than Labour have done

With jobs for unskilled labour becoming increasingly scarce even in boom times, it doesn’t make any sense for teens to drop out of school, training or work:

“Britain has one of the worst teenage drop-out rates of any developed country, with more than one in ten of those aged 15 to 19 not in school, work or training.”
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6825679.ece

It’s time we debated important questions about our yoof culture – the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe, the binge drinking and escalating mortality rate linked to alcohol abuse etc. IMO we can’t reasonably blame the government for all that and I’m not one given to awarding merit points to New Labour for performance.

People like me, pretty much the audience Dave is talking about, hate Labour for a whole variety of reasons and that is why their performance has to almost be admired. From Tory voters that they have given a new lease of life to through shitty economics and poor handling of scandal, to liberal sections of the population like myself who see policy being bloated to railroad through illiberal and ill thought out legislation on to the books, all the way to the more left wing and/or working class that see themselves without jobs, having their benefits put under review and threat while their base taxes are being increased to fund a middle-england tax cut.

The success of Labour’s failure is that they have managed to accomplish it in so many areas, from failure in education (certainly in faith that what education provides is worth the process) to failure in equality, from failure in simply listening to what young people in the country want to failure in preventing the rhetoric of the nation become “what nasty little buggers the youth all are”.

I applaud Labour, because not a single part of me can believe that they managed to pull all of this off without concerted efforts and planning to do so.

“It’s time we debated important questions about our yoof culture – the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe, the binge drinking and escalating mortality rate linked to alcohol abuse etc. IMO we can’t reasonably blame the government for all that and I’m not one given to awarding merit points to New Labour for performance.”

I’m going to actually write a post about this later, but alcohol abuse is the one area where Labour should genuinely be applauded. Youth drinking is, for all intents and purposes, the best it’s been in generations, certainly since the 80s.

It is a myth propogated by the right-wing media (and is picked up, unfortunately, by Labour and Lib Dems) that our kids are any worse than they were 3 decades ago, they’re certainly significantly more responsible than they were just under a decade ago.

Of course those minority (that are dwindling) that do drink to excess do so to greater amounts…I’m yet to see any evidence (and am open to it, believe me) that shows our teen pregnancy rates are specifically linked to alcohol abuse.

As for mortality rates, that’s pure politics. Anyone can sit here and say mortality rates are bad now, so behaviour now must be too. They would be wrong in the most illogical way too. Alcohol abuse doesn’t propogate itself in to death over the course of a year or two, and I would wager good money that the rise we’re seeing now (and is being seen in other countries) is down to the cultural changes in accessibility to alcohol in the late 90’s…certainly not Labour’s fault as you say. But regardless, anyone crying about mortality rates now is crying too late. There *will* be a whole swathe of people that die or have serious consequences of their actions a decade or so ago, we can invest in the health service to help these people and catch their problems early…perhaps here is where Labour can come under some criticism (as any government would, I’m sure) but all we can realistically do is try to stop that culture happening again.

And you know what, we are, so let’s stop talking this bullshit about “yoof drinking” already.

Good grief, far too much handwringing here about how long Labour may or may not be out of power, who knows? Seriously, you cannot even hazard a guess, it depends are far too many factors to bandy around the idea that it could be 15 years.

I also don’t buy that Labour inspires as much hate in the youth of Britrian, as the destructive period of Thatcher, we’ve seen none of that civil unrest yet or mental scarring and how can we forget that the Tories stayed in for while after she went?

All this handwringing and hyperbole is getting a wee bit unsettling.

13. true, it isn’t as bad as the Thatcher period…but who cares about that out of my generation? We didn’t live in that and as far as I’m concerned, and clearly others of my generation, this is a bad enough performance to warrant the disdain.

Indeed Lee, although they have’t made that bad a pigs ear of it, its always relative but wait for Conservative rule, then we’ll see which way the youth vote falls, if at all.

“People like me, pretty much the audience Dave is talking about”

Oh yes, we are analysing the opinions of former SU Presidents?

I’m not having a go, by the way, just pointing out you are hardly a typical representative of this thing called ‘our generation’, it would seem you have been active and interested in politics at quite a deep level for some time.

So the issues you raise around bureacracy, liberalism and so on may set the blogosphere on fire, but have made no impact in the minds of younger generations.

Its when young people can’t get a job, can’t get a place in Uni because its so over-subscribed, end up shackled with debt if they do, can’t complete their apprenticeships because there is no work around that politics rudely crashes into their lives. And when their reality is contrasted to the greedy, corrupt politicians who are supposed to be helping them, it really grates.

This is why young people hate Labour, and as Daniel Hoffmanm-Gill points out, they will quickly learn to hate the Tories.

“Oh yes, we are analysing the opinions of former SU Presidents?”

No, people that are my age…hence the generational context.

“I’m not having a go, by the way, just pointing out you are hardly a typical representative of this thing called ‘our generation’”

Being of “our generation” I’d say I’m fairly entitled to my say. Being able to read and understand the various gripes and concerns of people that aren’t the same as me is what usually makes me perfectly adequate as a representative. Unlike some I don’t claim that my personal experience is the sum of everyone elses, it’s a shame you can’t begin to perhaps allow for the fact I might actually be taking in more than just my singular opinion when forming my views?

“So the issues you raise around bureacracy, liberalism and so on may set the blogosphere on fire, but have made no impact in the minds of younger generations.”

Except for those that are politically active..hence me splitting out (in a very base and general fashion) the different groups of this generation that have been affected in different ways. I’ve no doubt someone unemployed is looking at me saying I don’t understand what the “real” problem is, but that problem is ultimately something they feel more than anyone else. We’re all subjective, the point is simply that there are MANY subjective views, for differing reasons, that all point to a distrust and even hatred of this current Labour administration.

“Its when young people can’t get a job, can’t get a place in Uni because its so over-subscribed, end up shackled with debt if they do, can’t complete their apprenticeships because there is no work around that politics rudely crashes into their lives.”

See, for example, this is your analysis. This analysis could be fundamentally different if you were a first generation immigrant, a muslim, disabled or (perhaps more importantly for this particular view) fairly well off.

I agree wholeheartedly that the economics here are what hurt more broadly, they also wouldn’t have been aided by any other government being in power.

“This is why young people hate Labour, and as Daniel Hoffmanm-Gill points out, they will quickly learn to hate the Tories.”

What you’re talking about is not a hatred of parties, but a hatred and disenfranchisement of modern politics, which is all together more detrimental.

Much though I’d love Plaid to crush Labour where it hurts, I just don’t quite see it happening. If Labour get completely wiped out in Wales, I’ll buy you a pint.

“Indeed Lee, although they have’t made that bad a pigs ear of it, its always relative but wait for Conservative rule, then we’ll see which way the youth vote falls, if at all.”

Let’s see how many people vote full stop at the next election (or indeed in the election after that which may be more telling). Successive governments have failed to give power to the people in a meaningful way that would allow change to occur more quickly. Even after all this scandal people (perhaps like our Gary above) would rather the government just made the right announcements and right short term policies than fix the system that allows governments to run us in to the ground on a variety of different areas; and it’s given the conservatives and labour the power to mostly ignore the calls for a necessary review and/or referendum in to the very structure of our democracy.

But no worries, politics will happen, in the short term people will be placated, and this cycle will continue.

Lee, you claimed you were pretty much the audience Dave is talking about.

“a whole layer of students, young workers and a million or so NEETs in 2009 are in pretty much the same frame of mind about the party of which I a member”

“I’m assuming, if only from what I overhear apolitical workmates in a similar age bracket say, that this mood is generalised and not confined to the radicals that each successive decade inevitably throws up.”

“Lose an entire age group”

As I said, I’m not taking the piss, I’m just pointing out that we are discussing the perceptions and realities for the mass of young people, who are awaking and participating in politics for the first time, not former SU Presidents. Not to say you can’t have an opinion, that your opinion is not valid etc etc, but I don’t think you are the audience that Dave is talking about.

“What you’re talking about is not a hatred of parties, but a hatred and disenfranchisement of modern politics, which is all together more detrimental.”

Yup, that is near enough what I am talking about, and I think that is the point you are missing, perhaps, and I emphasise perhaps because you are approaching it from inside the political bubble. But, hey, I wouldn’t want to refuse to allow for the fact you might actually be taking in more than just your singular opinion when forming my views.

“Even after all this scandal people (perhaps like our Gary above) would rather the government just made the right announcements and right short term policies than fix the system that allows governments to run us in to the ground on a variety of different areas”

Excuse me?

20. The Grim Reaper

25 years of Call Me Dave in charge?

I think I need some strong anti-depressants.

How about adopting this policy option to restore depleted moral standards?

“A leading Egyptian scholar has demanded that people caught importing a female virginity-faking device into the country should face the death penalty.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8279276.stm


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  2. Shona

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    Sadly true.

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    Liberal Conspiracy » Labour: writing off their generation- Questioning the BNP … Michael posted on Questioni… http://bit.ly/4kSyic

  4. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article:: Labour: writing off their generation http://bit.ly/z9RgI

  5. Shona

    http://bit.ly/z9RgI

    Sadly true.

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