As pessimism amongst the young spreads, Blair once again intervenes on Brexit and war in the Pacific looms, Lindsey German explains what's at stake
I must say, I was brought up short by the results of a survey published by the Resolution Foundation last week which showed widespread pessimism about the future among young people, and shows many wishing they could have been born in their parents’ generation. According to this ‘Overall, people were more than twice as likely to say that young people today will have a worse standard of life compared to their parents (48%) than a better standard of life (23%). There has been a sharp turnaround in views compared to 15 years ago, as the proportion of people who think their children will have a better life than them has halved.’
In some ways, this is not unexpected, given that many of us on the left have been saying for a while that the young are being particularly hard hit and that there is a general level of discontent in society which, by most measurements, is high. But what did surprise me is how high it is and how much it has changed in the last 15 years. Interestingly, anxiety among the young was at its highest among those with higher education and higher salaries. This suggests to me the way in which the effects of neoliberalism are having a generally depressing effect on mass consciousness which is now reaching into large sections of the middle classes.
The reasons aren’t hard to see, and are highlighted by the report. Young people acknowledge they have access to some things their parents and grandparents didn’t- education, travel, and information. While all these things are important, they don’t trump a failure to achieve some of the basics which are needed to make life bearable. In particular, ‘The survey found one concern, in particular, outweighing all others, with a huge majority believing young people will be worse off than their parents in terms of owning their own home (a youth outlook score of -63). Other economic worries included whether today’s young would have a comfortable retirement (-51 on balance worse than their parents) or a secure job (-43).’
Housing keeps coming back to haunt people as the issue of our time. It was highlighted in the cruelest way by the Grenfell disaster earlier this summer, as we saw the lack of building and fire regulation, the contemptuous and neglectful attitude of the rich and powerful towards the housing of the poor, and the failure of councils to protect and deliver for those most in need of housing. It affects people across different sorts of housing – council, housing association, co-op tenants, private renters and owner occupiers. Only a tiny fraction of the population escapes from concern about housing – and they are exactly the people that government policy is designed to protect. Help to Buy, created by George Osborne, has led to massive profits for the construction companies, while making barely a dent in the numbers unable to afford to buy.
I spoke at a meeting on Friday night about Grenfell and housing, along with Matt Wrack from the Fire Brigades Union and Diane Abbott, who is the MP in Stoke Newington. She stressed that this is the biggest issue by far when doing her constituency surgeries and that people are in the most desperate conditions. I said that for the first time since the 1880s, there is no central group of people thinking how to improve housing in London. It is criminal neglect on the part of government, and it has – as I think Diane said - a knock on effect in terms of health, education, domestic violence to name just three. The meeting took place on a road where houses will sell for well over £1 million each. But what is the point of that when your kids, neighbours, and friends are having to pay up to half their income on private renting which goes into the pockets of landlords? None of this is going to change until we have some sort of system change.
The role model of the extreme centre: Blair on Brexit
The Brexit debate is at its height but no one really knows what the government is doing. Step forward Tony Blair, who is going to tell us.
He has a plan, which is that there has to be a way to renegotiate a deal with the EU effectively to stay in – or at least to stay in the single market but without free movement of labour. In his usual style, there is not a hint either of humility or principle about Blair. If only everyone really saw things like him, then things would be ok. And he really doesn’t mind using the old dog whistle politics about immigration, although in the nicest possible way. Twice on the Andrew Marr show, he referred to controls of non-EU migrants being where most concern was. His plan to restrict free movement shows his priorities – the maintenance of the neoliberal free market with all that entails.
He also made clear that his worst nightmare would be Brexit, plus what he called an ‘unreconstructed’ left Labour government committed to redistributive policies and public ownership. What he means is a government committed to improving the lives of ordinary people and spending on health, education, and housing. It is increasingly becoming clear that Brexit isn’t just about Brexit, it’s about how society is going to be organized. We know what the Tories want – their plan is to enforce low wage, light regulation jobs, more privatization, and trade deals which will be led by these sorts of principles. Labour’s People’s Brexit allows a different way of operating where Brexit can be used to improve the lives and conditions of working people. This has to be paramount, not the sort of remain-lite policies which Keir Starmer is pushing.
It seems to me disastrous to follow a policy which will in any way look as though it is calling for a second referendum, as Blair really wants, or even a long period when nothing happens. This would be bad both because it would affect Labour electorally but also because it is profoundly undemocratic. People have had decades of politicians ignoring their wishes (not least Blair, of course) and this is a major source of discontent. The best way of fueling that – and allowing the far right to grow – would be to disdain their view over the referendum.
Yet that is exactly what many Labour MPs would like to do. Instead, there should be a serious debate about a People’s Brexit, a defence of the right of people from wherever they originate to come to this country, and an assault on the policies of inequality and private wealth that this government (and Blair) stand for.
Meanwhile, if we want to see what can go wrong, check out Nigel Farage speaking at an election meeting of Alternativ fur Deutschland, hosted by the granddaughter of one of Hitler’s ministers. They look to gain seats in Germany's upcoming election. More anti-immigration, anti-Muslim racism. Good luck and solidarity to the comrades in Die Linke, also standing, and to all those protesting against this bunch.
War in the Pacific: not a good idea, but it could happen
The UN will again discuss today further sanctions on North Korea, following their latest nuclear tests. If not, the US allegedly has other plans up its sleeve. It’s hard to see exactly what can be further imposed on one of the most isolated countries in the world, apart from an oil embargo, which could lead to economic collapse and even starvation for its people.
China so far is refusing to go down this road. At present, even most military opinion can’t see a military solution which doesn’t kill millions of people. That means a return to talks and to an increased urgency for nuclear disarmament across the world. The main barrier to this is, of course, the existing nuclear powers, including Britain. They are very keen to hang onto their own ‘deterrent’ while refusing to allow anyone else to have one. Yet it is widely acknowledged that Kim Jong un’s aim is to stay in power, and he has learnt from the experience of Libya’s Gadhafi, who abandoned nuclear testing only to be overthrown in 2011 by those who persuaded him to do so only a few years earlier. There is a general fear over nuclear war, but also a sense that probably it won’t happen. With Trump in the White House, growing rivalry with China, and the existence of nuclear testing in North Korea, plus the stationing of THAAD missiles in the South, don’t count on it.
Quote of the week
Michael Fallon tells us that ‘Russia is carrying out military exercises by Nato’s border’. Russia is a country, Michael, whereas Nato is a military alliance. And this is the man deciding our policy on North Korea.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Born to rule over us? – weekly briefing
- Lip service to the left, but moves to the right - weekly briefing
- Do not be fooled: Trump is the problem
- Soleimani assassination is an act of war
- Past mistakes, future opportunities - weekly briefing
- What we should take from the election and what we do next
- Where do we go from here? – election briefing 13 December