London, On reflection

Suddenly, an election that really matters

“It doesn’t matter who you vote for, they’re all the same anyway.”

Until not so long ago, this exasperated complaint at the samey nature of political parties was all-too justified. It led at least in part to the Brexit vote – a vote to really upset the status quo in the most emphatic way possible. Outside of that, if the Tories and Labour were more or less indistinguishable (both committed to a lean state with many public services privatised, a low-tax economy, open-door immigration, the EU, social liberalism, a country in which the rich get ever richer and the less well-off ever more hopeless and frustrated), then what was the point of turning out on polling day?

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Well, no-one can complain of this lack of alternatives now. On Thursday, 8 June, voters really are given a choice. It’s a choice between a more xenophobic and jingoistic version of Thatcherism than even the Iron Lady would have countenanced – a Tory government effectively taken over by the far-right fringe of UKIP-ideologues. In their political gameplan, everything is justified by Brexit (the Tories eagerly seizing on a mess they created – genius.) In this scenario, we give Theresa May Tudor-like royal powers to negotiate our very own affairs in secret, away from our prying eyes, allow a wholesale repeal of legislation and replacement of it by government, bypassing Parliament (if the EU had dared the same!) and suffer even more austerity, this time justified by the headwinds created by Brexit (“there is no magic money tree”, as Theresa May told the nurse in York who had the temerity, like Oliver Twist, to please have some more).

No hope then for our over-worked doctors, nurses and teachers, no succour for the NHS, certainly no £350 million a week – that much must be clear to any last voter by now. At the same time, a commitment to a hard Brexit which would irreversibly wreck the economy more than any loony-tunes Labour government ever could, making trade costly and bureaucratic, travel cumbersome, degrading UK higher education, damaging our start-up sector, making life more difficult for our farmers – the list goes on ad infinitum. All this wrapped up in a promise to bring down immigration which even some Tories argue will be hard to deliver, and which will further harm our economy (who will look after the sick in our hospitals, who will pick our strawberries if we deport foreign workers en masse – or simply turn them off so much they leave of their own accord?) At the same time, to compensate, the Tories propose even lower taxes for rich corporations and individual to compensate for the Brexit-mess they’ve created. And on the international stage, May will continue to hold hands with “America-first”, coal-burning, foreigner-bombing, corrupt Donald Trump – a lonely vassal of the deranged and fevered POTUS.

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On the other hand, Labour is for the first time in many years offering a true alternative to the status quo. Free from EU-rules, a Labour government would consider lowering VAT – the most regressive and unfair tax of them all, as it’s paid by the wealthy and the poor alike. It would freeze income tax and NI-contributions for most, while raising tax rates for the richest (who have enjoyed many years of tax cuts). It promises to end zero-hours contracts, regulate the gig economy, hire more police, end the freeze in public sector pay, re-nationalise the railways bit by bit, bring utilities into local public ownership (a model that works very well in the socialist utopia, Germany) and abolish tuition fee (remember a time when we took free education for granted? Overall, the country had less money then!). At the same time, Labour would allow all EU-citizens to stay in Europe and is realistic on immigration. On this sore point, Corbyn and his team bet on the idea that Brits don’t resent foreigners as long as they are not undercutting the local population, or using scarce public services. In ending the exploitation of foreign workers, British workers would enjoy once more a level playing field.

 

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Tory London: while ordinary people are being priced out of the capital,  luxury tower blocks are being marketed at international investors (they’re ugly, too).

The EU-referendum put the country at a historic crossroads. Until recently, it seemed as if we had made a choice and were therefore set on an inevitable onward course. Yes, the people had made  one decision that truly mattered – but now we could all go home: our job was merely to confirm Theresa May in office and let her get on with governing as she saw fit. The polls  looked as if docile Britons were about to do exactly that.

The election was to be a pure formality, a bit like Parliament triggering Article 50 by a vast majority. But as we approach polling day, everything has changed, and May’s coronation doesn’t seem so certain any more.

Instead, we could see the face of Britain change radically once more, harking back to the truly revolutionary governments of 1948 and 1979.

This time, it really does matter who you vote for.

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On reflection

Our attitude towards young people drips with hypocrisy

At 45, I am working in what’s widely regarded a young people’s game – the media industry. As such, I am intensely aware of my looming decrepitude and the approaching brow of the hill, no matter how many selfies with my skateboard I take and other youthful shenanigans I pursue. It is not just the media which has a fetish for youth, or, to be precise, for millennials or digital natives, themselves about to be supplanted by the next cohort, Generation K (“named after Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the Hunger Games, who embodies many of their qualities”). What is so special about those 1990s-born youngsters? We study, promote and extol them as if having only ever known a world in which social media rule gave them a sagacity we, the dying-out analogues, lack. Yet despite this hero worship, this young generation has a tougher time of it than any other since the last world war. Indebted by tuition fees, should they be so optimistic, determined or privileged to go to university, they struggle with poor employment prospects and the prohibitive cost of housing while their parents live off the gains they made while the going was good. Not only that, this generation has grown up with – and been shaped by – “terrorism, technology and anxiety”.

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 Arch-survivalist Katniss Everdeen: the embodiment of “Generation K”

This disconnect between perceived cultural leadership and economic suppression is a schizophrenic state of affairs. Perhaps our idolatry masks a guilty conscience. Perhaps it is just a cynical method to flatter them into docility and submission. For what is striking about this youth is its meek acceptance of the status quo. In Brexit Britain, their elders, with self-righteous ruthlessness, have destroyed their future as equal citizens within Europe (two thirds of young people voted Remain). But do we see an outcry, protests of young people marching in the street? While there have been some eruptions (student protests, the Occupy movement), it seems that millennials are more pre-occupied with instagramming their selfies. At the same, they are a practical lot: If there’s no work at home, they cross borders to work as baristas, even if they are woefully over qualified for the job). All this, by the way, is to say nothing of those young people outside Europe, who are even more shockingly disadvantaged. Meanwhile, oldies continue to bolster their position at the expense of their children – one need only look at the primacy of pensioners over young people in the UK. Perhaps the Millennials are merely excercising patience, knowing that what is theirs must eventually come to them by natural causes. If this is true, they may be wiser and more philosophical than I give them credit for.

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