A sort of sequel to this.
The over-reaction everyone’s having to the election results, as if we can’t tell a lesser defeat from a victory – what lies behind that? Simple wish fulfilment or something more? Here’s one idea…
Many people my age or older, if from the liberal/left end of the spectrum, have effectively been biding their time. They’ve patiently assumed that if they waited long enough sanity would be restored, the post-war consensus would re-emerge, neoliberalism prove a passing nightmare which vanished with the dawn and Bobby Ewing be found alive and well in the shower.
This is in fact so absurdly regressive that the neoliberal critique of it even has some traction. It’s the trap of subjectivity. Just because that world was everything we knew, that never meant it was everything that was. And, frankly, Keynesian economics are now an analogue TV set. They were only ever an ancillary to Fordist production, out of place in a globalised world.
Nevertheless, the psychological need to believe the old certainties were coming back lay deep, and so gets mapped onto whatever passes. First, it was the financial crisis. And this assumption… not that it provided opportunities to challenge neoliberalism anew, but would in itself sound it’s death knell… was a factor in allowing neoliberalism to reconstitute itself. The markets crashed. The King was found to be in the altogether. But while we politely awaited him to admit this awkward fact, he had another set or ermine robes run up, and then charged them to us. We thought being right, in and of itself, assured victory. Just like we had over the Gulf War, which ended with us getting shafted too. Guys, they don’t care about being right or wrong. They care about being rich and powerful.
Now we’re trying to map that onto this election. Yet, as said last time, it would be truer to say that through their Maybot campaigning the Tories lost than Labour won . In a vox-pop on last night’s Newsnight’, one woman said “all they had to do was not be rubbish. But they were rubbish.” Which summarises the whole thing more succinctly than any paid pundit has managed.
And, if you think about the way the vote divided, claiming it marks a return to the old world ignores some very basic facts. Corbyn joked “I have youth on my side”, which they were. A viscious circle had arisen, where politicians felt less need to engage with young people who (by and large) didn’t vote, and an increased motivation to offer bungs to pensioners who (by and large) did. Finally, that circle shrunk to the point where it burst. In short, it was the generation who most remembered the post-war consensus who were least concerned with keeping it, and vice versa. The oldest of the 18-25 segment were born in 1992.
It’s perhaps easy to have an older person’s veneration of youth, imagining it has some intrinsic virtue. Young people are inherently better at staying up late and picking stuff up off the floor, but that’s about it. And I don’t hold with this ‘age is the new class’ business which is circulating. (Actually an update of stuff spouted in the Sixties, but I digress…) And, as also said last time, there’s no reason to assume some inherent change in political awareness has occurred. This election could even be a one-off. But we do need to be more… yes, really... down with the kids.
Because young people weren’t hearkening for some past system they didn’t even know, but responding to being squeezed by pushing back. They were organising around their own needs. Which is the starting point of any radical critique, and we need to be more like that. At times this will involve struggling to keep past gains, such as defending the National Health Service. Which is an entirely valuable thing to do. But at others it will involve totally new struggles, such as opposing the Snooper’s Charter.
And let’s remember – when we were in that era, we just wanted it to end. “Nine to five” meant a life not your own, trapped inside crushing conformity. Rising job insecurity has led to it feeling almost like an aspiration, which can obscure this. But our original instincts were good. We couldn’t have that world back if we wanted it. But besides that, why would we ever want it? Let’s stop opposing their future with our past, and start opposing their future with ours.