Saturday 2 September 2023

Doing Young People a Disservice

A couple of months ago, Sebastian Payne co-authored a report bewailing the Millennials' hatred of the Tories, but made the complacent point that the generation were "shy capitalists" who needed feeding the right policy cocktail to bring them on side. He made similar points about so-called Generation Z, who "emphasise policies that promote equality but they are more like Boomers in their pro-business and low-tax focus" (Missing Millennials, p35). Lower taxes will do the job, apparently. But clearly that's not enough for Payne. Presumably to weld the rising generation to (often affected, never realised) Conservative concerns for community and country, what he'd like to see is the reintroduction of National Service for six months for 16-17 year olds.

You see, Payne is very worried. He writes that young people's mental health is poor, they're unhappy, unmoored from their social surroundings and (apparently) "unskilled". Mental illness referrals are sky high and suicide rates are surging. The problem he's alighted on are weakening social bonds. "The youngest are three times more likely than retirees to distrust their neighbours. And a clear majority state they are less patriotic than older generations."

Payne's solution is a Great British (because everything has to be Great British) national service scheme. 16 year olds would be required to undertake six months service, including a two-week residential, followed by an option of another year of volunteering. Naturally, Payne says nothing about whether youngsters would be paid for their time. He explicitly rules out the militaristic idea of national service - you know, the sort that gets certain groups of older people excited which they, conveniently, did not have to do, and instead favours a more civic-oriented scheme. A mix of the still-going Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme and badges from Akela, I suppose. Furthermore, what Payne favours is an opt-out system rather than opt-in, which mitigates objections that could be raised about its compulsory character.

As suggestions go, it's certainly better than what other Tories have offered this week. Provided compulsion is absent, there isn't a sniff of militarism, and participants are paid decently for their time, there isn't much to get annoyed about. Except it would seem Payne hasn't done his home work. A similar scheme has existed for 12 years. Launched as part of Dave's Big Society wheeze, it hasn't exactly gone from strength-to-strength. In 2019, its partner charity The Challenge liquidated following a funding dispute with the government. It was cut to ribbons by Boris Johnson, but nevertheless provides gainful employment for some. How Payne's reiteration might succeed where this didn't is left up in the air.

What's telling is how this manifests an avoidance of political realities. For understandable reasons, as a failed would-be Tory candidate talking about the consequences of the Covid lockdowns as if they were mere forces of nature, Payne utterly refuses to address the shitty deal young people are getting from his government. The Tories have allowed inflation to erode pay as a means of disciplining a work force who, for a brief moment, might have had their expectations raised by decisive state actions. This especially weighs down on young people who are at the bottom of the pay scale. The Tories have promoted an utterly bleak politics that allows no room for hope or the idea the future might be better. And the bargain successive governments have offered young people that working hard at school can be traded in for decent jobs afterwards is reneged on with joke apprenticeships and a higher education sector that prepares students for non-existent positions. As scapegoats go, refugees and trans people are the targets of choice, but young people generally are never far behind. Even those who might have caught a snatch of some Tory proposing a return of national service all adds to their perception of a hostile environment for young people.

And Payne is also refusing to look at why comparatively large numbers of young people are out of work. If he actually talked to real people instead of touring the pundits in his ridiculous book on the red wall, he might be surprised to learn that despite there being a "tight" labour market, the number of vacancies - as always - trails the numbers of unemployed. If he wants to consider the failings of his party's reckless management of Covid, the numbers are there to see. Long-term sickness has exploded by 400,000 since the onset of the pandemic, which will not only include some young people dealing with long Covid and its complications, but also saddle quite a few of them with caring responsibilities for an infirm family member.

Remembering that Tory values and philosophy are a fiction to cover for the fact there is nothing more anti-community and anti-social than the modern Conservative Party, the state they're in and their utter desperation for something, anything that can put the band of their 2019 electoral coalition back together, should they decide to run with Payne's scheme it will be another ham fisted effort at driving a wedge between the party's recent backers and their grand children. Things are too far gone for that to help turn the coming election around, but poison some minds it surely will.

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1 comment:

Blissex said...

»over for the fact there is nothing more anti-community and anti-social than the modern Conservative Party»

Our blogger's claim as to this is rather unrealistic, the Conservatives have a strong notion of "our own", which includes property, finance and business rentiers, that is upper-middle and upper class people who belong to a tight network of connections, marriages, cliques, all in great solidarity (scratch my back, scratch yours) with each other. I guess our blogger has never heard of the "Old Boy Network" :-).

My usual quote from Nick Timothy, political strategist of Theresa May:

«“I remember one MP who, as a member of the Shadow Cabinet, once said: “school reform is all very well but we must protect the great public schools, because we need to look after our own people.” Quite how many of the millions of core Tory voters he thought had attended public schools was never explained.”»