Building a radical future

The media and political establishment seeks to demonise and marginalise young people even as it claims to be for them.

Our guest writer is Ben Little, editor of the free Soundings eBook “Radical Future

The increasing awareness of just how bad a deal people under thirty in Britain are getting at the moment has been countered by a media and political establishment that seeks to demonise and marginalise young people even as it claims to be for them. Yesterday’s report on youth unemployment by the cross-party schools select committee recommending that 16-27 year olds should be in college or training to receive benefits reinforces the general trend in British politics that schemes purporting to be positive for young people can actually end up being exploitative.

As Compass Youth chair Noel Hatch argues in his chapter for the Radical Future the sort of training schemes argued for here often expect young people to be essentially in work while receiving less than poverty wages. Somehow young people should be glad of opportunities that fully-fledged “adults” would most likely consider insulting. Notice also the creeping expansion of the age bracket from 16-24 up to a new cut-off point of 27.

As I argue in the introduction to the book this attitude to the young is a direct result of an electoral system that entrenches the privileged location of middle-aged, middle-class Britain. Alistair Darling proved as much when he stated in his budget speech that the expansion of university places was to “reassure parents”.

The generations under thirty face a raft of long term issues that cannot simply be reduced to a politics contingent on the current rates of youth unemployment, first time buyers or educational achievement. We are being left a legacy of difficult societal and economic problems that are not of our making, but will fall to us to resolve and will define our adult lives.

Radical Future gathers the analysis and ideas of a range of young activists, journalists and academics from Left Foot Forward’s Joss Garman to Ejos Ubiribo – adviser to the Met Police’s Operation Trident. What is resoundingly clear from these contributions on a wide range of topics, from housing to mental health, from immigration to foreign policy, is that the current way of addressing problems that need a political response is insufficient. What emerges is a sense that the failure of politics is systemic and that its dominant philosophies are intellectually, morally and literally bankrupt.

It will be us, the under thirties, who must look for a way out of this mess, not over the course of the next economic or electoral cycle, but as a way of securing our futures for the long term. Yet the problem is that many of us are not just cut off from the political establishment, but from the very language of politics.

Having been brought up exclusively under neo-liberalism, traditional leftist concepts such as collective bargaining, solidarity or social democracy have little resonance with a cohort that has no experience of these ideas as a genuine political force. This needs an inter-generational debate that explores the possibilities for a new politics, one that works with, not against, the participatory, media savvy, network orientated sensibilities of the under thirties.

As technology shifts the way in which we relate to one another, a progressive outcome is not inevitable, instead it falls to those of us who work actively for a fairer, greener Britain to make our case as strongly as we can to our peers. We hope that Radical Future can stand as an early contribution to that debate.

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