Posts Tagged ‘Legal Costume’

Jolyon Rubinstein and Politicians’ Failure to Connect with the Young

February 11, 2015

This is a continuation of the comments I posted on my reblog of Tom Pride’s interview with Jolyon Rubinstein. Rubinstein is on a campaign to get the politicos to take the young seriously. He laments that while there are certain politicians across the House in all parties, who want to get more young people interested in politics, the majority don’t. In his interview with Mr Pride, he seems to feel that the established position among the parties is that they don’t trust the young, as engaging them would upset the ‘status quo’.

Patronising with Pop Stars

I think he has point. When politicians have tried to engage the young, it’s been patronising and rather half-hearted. The prime examples of this was when various Tory MPs suddenly started telling the world, who their favourite pop musicians were. Almost as if there’d been a meeting at Central Office, which said, ‘Okay, chaps, next on the agenda: young people. They like pop music, so you’ve all got to have a favourite band or pop star. The PR people have had a look at what’s in the charts, and compiled a list of who you’re going to like.’ It was hardly surprising that the bands selected include the Spice Girls and the Scissor Sisters. They were in the charts and were highly popular. The Scissor Sisters seem to have been deliberately chosen to show that the Tories were now at ease with gays. Of course the bands they chose weren’t anything too challenging or potentially controversial, like Public Enemy, NWA, Megadeath, or the Mission. They were either too obscure, or would have put too many potential voters off, in the case of Public Enemy and NWA, with their angry, racially alienated stance. And the bands definitely did not include PIL.

MPs Younger but Not Interested in Young People’s Problems

The other way the parties have tried to appeal to the young is by having progressively younger Prime Ministers and members of their cabinet. I’ve got a feeling that when he was elected, Blair may have been Britain’s youngest prime minister. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are also young. Well, young-ish. They’re still in the ’40s. As they should be. I want senior politicians old enough to have a proper, lived experience of the world and its trials and problems. Age shouldn’t necessary be a barrier. It shouldn’t matter how old the MP is, provided that they actually have some understanding of what life really is like for most young people. Simply saying that they are concerned with young people’s problems, because they’re parents, or from talking to parents and young people themselves, simply and unostentatiously, and actually showing they have, would overcome a lot of this alienation.

But they don’t. They simply dole out to the under 30s the same patronising flannel they give to the rest of the population. They might state that they understand their problems, but the very next thing they say in their next breath shows that they don’t. They then go back to talking in the abstract about economic predictions, without actually seeming to take on board that this has real consequences for their audience. They seem just interested in the abstract, economic reality without taking on board that to their audience, this means whether they can afford a proper house, decent clothes for the kids, run a car. Or for the unemployed and disabled, getting enough to eat that month.

Distrust of Youthful Radicalism

And I think Rubinstein is right about the parties distrusting the young. Young people have dangerous ideas. They can be dangerously and embarrassingly radical. Bliar deliberately closed down democracy in the NUS, probably because too many of the delegates were too extreme. And the Tories had troubles with their youth wing becoming increasingly racialised and supporting apartheid and racial nationalism.

Possibly going further, they may well be afraid of the spirit of ’68 and the radicalism of the 70s. The ’60s were a revolutionary decade, where youthful rebellion merged with and supported a number of then-radical, liberal causes: feminism, Civil Rights and ant-racism, militant peace movements against imperialism and particularly the Vietnam War. The election of Thatcher and Reagan was partly a reaction against all that, and succeeding administrations have tried to stress how responsible and sober they are, rather than youthful radicalism and revolt. Even as these administrations have taken over some of the liberal causes, like equality for women and ethnic minorities.

Tory Portrayal of Blair as Punk

You can see how much the Conservatives in particular hated youth culture, its fashions and political radicalism, by the cover of one of the books written by one of the Tory journos attacking Blair. Blair at the time was busy reforming the House of Lords, or stuffing it with his own supporters, whichever way you want to look at it. He was also engaged on other constitutional reforms, like suggesting possibly that judges might after all look a bit better if they didn’t have the horsehair wigs stuck on their heads. This was too much for that particular defender of the British Constitution. The cover showed Blair as some kind of punk or rocker, in black leather jacket and combat trousers. The terrible, slovenly, ignorant sprogs of the great unwashed were out there, and about to tear down tradition and decency. Kenny Everett’s thick punk character, Sid Snot, had risen up and somehow got into No. 10. If Middle England didn’t act pronto, he’d be followed by Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry. Quick! Give them proper haircuts and make them do National Service!

All of this has created a political culture in which young people are marginalised and distrusted, no matter how youthful country’s leaders are. Politicos don’t have to adopt their dress or youth culture to engage with them. My guess is that when it comes to conducting business, most people would prefer to see their politicians and public officials dressed conservatively in jacket and trousers. That said, I used to work in the Benefits Agency just before they passed the law requiring everyone to where suitable business clothing to work. You did see some of the younger staff wearing jeans and T-shirts for rock and pop bands. My guess is that while some of the older clients may have found it objectionable, most of the people actually going in probably couldn’t care less what the civil servant opposite them was wearing, so long as they were able to get them some money and properly process their claims.

Mass Politics in Decline from Concentration on Rich Donors

Another contributory factor in the alienation of young people from politics is undoubtedly the fact that the parties have concentrated on getting funding and support from rich, frequently corporate donors, rather than party subscriptions. The result has been that party membership generally has plummeted. The local Conservative Associations in particular have stated that they feel they are ignored and sidelined by the Tory party machine. Rubinstein has identified part of it in his recognition that people feel that the only thing that’s important to politicians is money, not people.

Politicians desperately need to reconnect with the young, along with much of the rest of the population. Indeed, just about everyone, who didn’t got to public school and has an income less that £50k. But as the Tories are doing their level best to stop people from registering to vote, and even taking the franchise away from resident Irish people and Commonwealth citizens, I can’t see Cameron taking any initiative in this direction at all.

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