Generation self?

Emily poi 1

I read a really depressing piece in the Guardian not long ago. Here is an extract;

Has Britain raised a new “heartless” generation of children of Thatcher – and, arguably, of Tony Blair? Does this mark the slow death of solidarity? Or has the received wisdom on the imagined journey through life, from hot-headed radical to self-satisfied reactionary, never been all that true?

Guardian/ICM poll is only the latest piece of evidence suggesting that the left’s defining value of solidarity is in considerably shorter supply among the young than the old. A rising generation that finds college expensive, work hard to come by and buying a home an impossible dream is responding to its plight, not by imagining any collective fightback, but by plotting individual escape.

The desolate atomisation of what we might dub “generation self” – today’s twentysomethings – poses a profound challenge for the left over the distant horizon. But it is not a challenge that shows up yet in the headline figures for voting intention, where pensioners remain considerably more conservative and everyone else’s propensity to put a cross in the Tory box remains much of a muchness. Rather, the staunch individualism of the young emerges when they are probed about deeper attitudes. This even manifests in areas like thewelfare state, despite young people being far more likely than their older compatriots to be unemployed.

A full 48% of 18- 24-year-olds, and 46% of 25- 34-year-olds disagreed with a statement suggesting that most unemployed people receiving benefits were “for the most part unlucky rather than lazy” – almost twice as many as in the over-65s group, where only 25% disagreed with the statement.

That gulf on welfare between the age gaps is a strong one: even despite the relatively small samples of each age group, the gap was easily big enough to be statistically significant.

Attitudes on a few other issues also showed a split, albeit not quite so stark: 24% of 18- 24-year-olds disagreed that it’s important to get to know your neighbours, versus just 11% of over-65s. Younger people were also more likely to disagree that they were proud to be British, although an overwhelming majority at all age groups express patriotism.

All this taps into a very familiar story- of how we are letting loose a generation who are disconnected, self absorbed, individualised to the point of atomisation and view everything as commodities to be consumed.


I have a daughter who is 17, and pretty much plugged into the mainstream- so much so that she calls me an aging hipster for my refusal to conform.

Now perhaps the child of a social worker and a community worker was always going to be gifted with an out sized social conscience but Emily is passionate about social justice, she loves nothing better than to celebrate a friends birthday or to arrange a gathering.

I think each generation has a crisis of confidence in the next one. Perhaps this is ours.

That is not to say that each generation does not need to find it’s own soul. Usually it seems to be found in adversity or mobilised by the eruption of a totemic issue. Mine was cast by the destruction of industry and the miners strike- and we had a name for our pain- Margaret Thatcher.  What is there today?

Well, there are people like Emily.

I might call them (but she would not necessarily use the same language) ‘Agents of the Kingdom of God’. A residue of grace in the middle of us.

2 thoughts on “Generation self?

  1. Thank God for parents like you and Michaela, and thank God for a new generation of people like Emily. I think you are right every generation looks a little pained at the new because they are different from us. The left must be creative as the baton is passed on to the new and my hope is bigger than my distain for Thatcher – I won’t credit her with spoiling the future of community values as, like General Woundwort, it would probably not displease her to think it so. The future and the next generation will make their own mistakes but they will also make their own versions of social justice and perhaps we can even dream of a better welfare state when someone who deserves to actually win a general election gets to power???

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