Monday 28 August 2017

The Spontaneous Socialism of the Young

We know young people voted in much larger numbers than usual at the general election. We also know they disproportionately favoured the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. What can we say about this? Reading A Millennial Manifesto by Madsen Pirie for the Adam Smith Institute (so you don't have to - post coming soon) he notes that younger people tend to be more sceptical towards social security and things smacking of the big state - at least according to British Social Attitudes research published in 2013 to a raspberry ripple of controversy. How to square the situation of the liberal - in the classical rather than living dead sense of the term - young voting in droves for a dyed-in-wool Bennite like Jezza?

It comes down to the poor old nag this blog has spent a lot of time flogging: security. Ever since I started paying attention to such things, official politics of blue and red flavours have had it in for young people. And it has got progressively worse. From the joke of the Youth Training Scheme to the New Deal, workfare, and Mickey Mouse apprenticeships, the age conditionality attached to benefits, the stripping out of support for HE students and handing them tens of thousands worth of debt instead, the age banding on the minimum wage, the housing shortage, and the less likelihood of getting a rewarding, secure career with a decent salary (which millions of youngsters are promised if they get their heads down and work hard), is it any wonder younger people would tend toward a "fresh" political leader promising something different and holding out the hope for a better future?

Nevertheless, if security is the key to unlocking the dynamics of youth politics how to explain the noted scepticism toward social security? Consider the experiences most young people have in dealing with it. The bureaucracy is complex, off-putting and overly intrusive, signing on is an unwelcoming and sometimes punitive experience, and the rules are designed entirely to make getting help difficult. And this was before the Tories introduced age threshold eligibility criteria. If you have a system that excludes and very reluctantly offers the young support, are they likely to reciprocate in turn with warm, fuzzy feelings of gratitude?

Millions of young people are anti-Tory and will never support them because this state of affairs is identified with their governments. The same applies to the Liberal Democrats whose very public betrayal of students - after building a great deal of support off the back of presenting as their party - still resonates among young people. And there is little love for Blair and Brown either, which is best exemplified by the teeny tiny numbers of young people formally involved with their latter day standard bearers.

Yet it would be a mistake to reduce the spontaneous leftism of the young to political events. Being, ontology, how they are in the world has a great deal to do with it. Incredibly, the first tenet of materialist social theory, that what goes on in your life has a great deal of bearing on what you think about it and the choices you make, is radical precisely because it opens up the resit of society to an unsparing analysis that sees social relations for what they are. For younger people, not only do they generally experience life more precariously than their parents and grandparents, but their conditions of life are forming new solidarities too. Employers are increasingly more interested in the skills and aptitudes younger people develop outside of the world of work. Younger people haven't known a world without participating in large networks mediated via the internet, proliferating and perpetuating a myriad of ties with varying degrees of strength between large numbers, and therefore younger people are generally more resistant to the racist scapegoating idiocies of the tabloid press and right wing politics. For the Daily Mail reader, multiculturalism is an ideology. For younger people it's much closer to how they live.

This way of life tends to be highly individuated, but cooperative. Suspicious and sceptical of old collectives, but permanently networked. Politically, the young are attracted to Corbyn and Corbynism because he breaks the mould. Whoever follows him would risk losing this rising constituency to reluctant support and cynicism if we head back to the vote hemorrhaging politics of the dead centre. The young cannot be taken for granted, Labour must and has to be seen speaking for them. Our job is to take this latent disposition of the young and deepen the relationship to the point where their outlook on life is the same as the party's. Corbynism represents that first step, but it needs more to get involved to ensure the necessary follow through.


Speedy said...

They have no historical memory. Thatcher is what Churchill was to young people in the 90s, and so is Blair, incidentally.

They have no ideology because no alternative (like the USSR) exists - individual policies therefore matter. Which is why the student fee thing mattered. Also they respond to people targeted as anti establishment by the establishment.

Social services has nothing to do with it (or socialism for that matter - it was introduced by the Liberals by Churchill). Most young people are in education or working. The "dole" hasn't subsidised slackerism or the arts for 30 years...

All this is good, but fickle.

Anonymous said...

The problem with this analysis is that 'young people' are not an amorphous lumpen as seemingly portrayed. They do not act in unison and different groups of youth have different interests; the public school or independently educated teenager has a very different world view from the half-hearted teenager in a local comprehensive who has major problems to endure at home.

But if you want to write about reforming the appalling state of the benefits system with special reference to the hurdles that young claimants face, then all power to your elbow. There is an enormous amount to be done although some radical changes will not sit comfortably with many voters.

Britain has long regarded itself as a world leader in everything: trade, skills development, armed forces, national health service, etc. If we sat back and accepted that we have a lot to learn from our European neighbours that would be a start! First, by examining their welfare and benefits systems, which are generally better regarded.