The Conservative Party and the youth of Britain have seldom enjoyed a cordial relationship. From increasing tuition fees to enabling a corrupted job market and neglecting the climate crisis, the Tories of the last two decades have done very little to build any tangible trust between themselves and the U-25 bracket of the UK electorate.
In January of this year, the future for Britain’s youth was already looking grim. As the gig economy soared, access to secure employment became an increasingly distant prospect. As housing prices boomed, the likelihood of buying a home before the age of 40 appeared entirely insurmountable. As figures from the 2018 IPCC climate report emerged, a prolonged existence, and a more balanced global landscape, became a remote dream.
Then came the pandemic, the diabolical statistics. Britain: highest death toll in Europe. Despite the government’s reasoning that the aforementioned figures were the result of an attempt to salvage the British economy from the fiscal consequences of a lockdown, it has just been announced that we will also face the worst recession across the G7 and the Eurozone. Saviour Sunak ascribes this to the apparently ‘unique’ structure of the British economy, and our national proclivity for ‘social activities’ (i.e. restaurant-going and boozing). I am, however, disposed to attribute it to the complete ignorance, and incompetence, of our government, and their inclination toward redeeming big corporations rather than saving actual human lives.
The pandemic has arguably destroyed what small hope there was left for the youth of today. With over 1000 people applying for one receptionist job in Manchester, it is clear the job market is destined for doom. Meanwhile, (often young) renters face an incoming battle for shelter. Despite a ban on evictions, the Conservatives, and the Labour Party, have failed to even consider cancelling rent debt by way of protecting the tenant population.
Shadow Housing Minister Thangam Debbonaire’s suggestion that any accumulated rent debt should be paid off over the coming 24 months holds little ground when contextualised with unprecedented unemployment, which is set to increase as we embark on a journey of economic ‘recovery’. Furthermore, her claim that cancelling the rent was ‘un-Labour’ was entirely preposterous, serving to demonstrate an increasing disconnect between Labour MPs and their working membership.
What’s more, the eviction ban is to be lifted in the final days of August. Landlords will be free to serve Section 21s without the bat of an eyelid, putting 230,000 people at risk of homelessness in the coming months. That already-distant prospect of owning a home before 40? Forget about it.
The fallout from the Covid-19 crisis has also permeated the education sector. As an overdue lockdown was implemented in March, schools and universities were some of the first to close their doors. Whilst those in higher education were forced into completing their degrees via webinars and online assessments, A-Level and GCSE students were informed of the cancellation of all examinations. Whilst one might expect this to have induced jubilation amongst the UK’s juvenile cohort, the recent results day debacle has created quite the opposite effect.
As figures surfaced in Scotland on the downgrading of the majority of student marks across our northern border, fears amongst the students of England quickly magnified. Though Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon came out apologising for the entirely flawed grading system, and the process of redemption that would follow, English students had no reason to rejoice. Just a week later, when those under BoJo’s individual reign received their A-level grades, it quickly became clear that the same, if not worse, sub-standard grading had been applied in English schools. The responsibility cannot simply be placed upon the exam moderators; the government’s total lack of guidance or universality is of equal culpability.
Whilst there was an estimated 4.7% increase in A/A*’s across the private school sector, the algorithm generated by Ofqual saw over 40% of teacher’s mark recommendations severely downgraded. Though the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson attempted to restore some confidence amongst the youth by offering those with better mock exam results to replace their final grade, a large majority of students, largely from disadvantaged backgrounds, will suffer disproportionately from the process of ‘moderation’ undertaken by the exam boards, under the auspices of the government.
As always, the Tories’ discrimination is intersectional. It is not simply anyone under 25 who will fall victim governmental negligence. Rather, figures illustrate that it is the lowest-income sections of British society who will come of the worst from recent events. Yes, that is, your postcode might dictate your grades. Despite the reprisal to similar happenings in Scotland, it has emerged that over 10% of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds predicted C grades and above have been confronted with serious downgrading.
This is not simply a case of deterring grade inflation. Though it might seem, on the surface, that the algorithm designed by Ofqual was a sensible measure emplaced to ensure that there wasn’t a sudden upsurge in grades from previous years, disadvantaging ex-students, those sheltered by parental wealth have seemingly dodged the bullet. Inflation is okay, so long as it operates inside the confines of private education.
More disconcerting, perhaps, is the depressingly paternalistic tone adopted by Britain’s wealthiest on Twitter when results day arrives. Jeremy Clarkson never fails to wade in with his ‘I got 2 C’s and a U but look where my disproportionate access to wealth has got me now’. 2020 was no different. This year, however, Lord Bethell also saw it appropriate that he console the disillusioned youth, by tweeting: ‘I fluffed my A-levels. Taught me how to hustle. First to get a place in University. Haven’t stopped ever since. Grades are great. But grit and perseverance win every time *insert rocket emoji*’.
If hustling now counts as being born to a Lord and becoming one of the few hereditary peers to our ever-corrupted second chamber, my understanding of business and wealth clearly falls short of the mark. Labour’s Paula Barker hit the nail on the head, responding to Bethell tweeting: ‘Old money advocating for some non-existent meritocracy conjures an image of looking through glass. Except this isn’t Alice in Wonderland. It’s Britain in 2020.’
We are governed by a wealthy, oft-Etonian elite. The likes of Johnson and Bethell have never displayed concern for anyone outside their rich circle of playmates. Today is no different. After a decade of government-enforced austerity, those on the peripheries of British society will once again be targets of a system designed to fail them.
Moreover, the recent result day debacle brings neoliberalism as a ‘functioning’ ideology into question. Since the 1980s, and Thatcher’s proclamation that ‘there is no such thing as society’, Britain’s leaders (both Conservative and Labour) have done everything in their power to uphold the neoliberal structures which permit the political and corporate elite to manoeuvre freely inside market perimeters. Meanwhile, we are told that this is the generation of the individual, the epoch of equal opportunity. Yet today’s news reinforces the reality that we are defined by our intensely uneven socioeconomic landscape.
There is no equal opportunity for all. The perceived personal agency that neoliberalism claims to generate is nothing short of non-existent. Those from the most disadvantaged margins of society won’t get anywhere by simply ‘trying harder’, or ‘getting a job’, and such distorted discourse does nothing but harm an already ostracised social group. Rather, we need a government that provides balanced societal openings, whilst quickly closing in on the ever-widening attainment gap.
Turning to the left side of Britain’s political spectrum, the question of trust between the youth and the political class becomes even more challenging to assess. Undoubtedly, previous LOTO Jeremy Corbyn mobilised the youth like never before. Since his leadership bid of 2015, an unmatched number of young people didn’t just become politically attentive, but politically active. From door-knocking to campaigning, the 18-24 electorate became more engaged than ever.
The 2019 election results embodied a microcosmic view of the upsurge in Labour’s young membership. Whilst Corbynn received 56% of the 18-24 vote, the Conservatives got only 21%. As we move down the generation graph, however, the Labour vote declines with age. By the time we get to the 60-69 age bracket, Labour’s vote is just 22%, whilst the Conservative rests at 57%. By 70+ the Conservatives secured a whopping 67% of the vote share (Labour just at 14%).
No wonder the Conservatives currently feel secure in the ideological war they are waging against Britain’s younger generation; they can expect over half of the electorate’s vote by those over the age of 50. There is little fear that this loyalty will dissipate any time in the near future (I mean, if they can appoint the blonde-haired bigot currently occupying our highest political office, the likelihood of continued Conservative rule persists). One could posit, with substantial grounding, that the Conservative’s battle against the youth is a reprisal to our aversion to vote for them.
Whilst Caitlin Moran claims, on Twitter, that the results day fiasco should incentivise the young to register to vote, I have little faith this will be the case. Rather, the more the youth feel cheated by those ostensibly ‘leading’ them, the more apathy that will penetrate society. I can’t imagine those faced with university rejections, and subordinate grades, first port of call is logging on to gov.uk and registering to vote.
Labour needs to find their feet when it comes to re-enfranchising the youth. The void is awaiting occupation. Rather than claiming that ‘opposition for opposition’s sake’ is unnecessary, Labour’s new leadership needs to get a firm grip and offer fully-fledged solidarity to the victims of Conservative elitism. We need a distinctive alternative, one that brings despondent youths into the left-wing fold.
The current political landscape offers an abundance of opportunity for the left to determine what this alternative should look like: one that advocates a Green Revolution, that promises social mobility, an entrance into a stable economic sphere, and most importantly, functions for the many. The 18-24 bracket is possibly the most significant in the next twenty years, and the next four elections. Whether it be renters, students or teaching unions, it is time for Sir Keir to step up.
Header Image credit: CambridgeIndependent