‘Y’ not Remain? Generation Y and the E.U Referendum

In a Britain pricing Generations Y and Z out of all sorts of opportunities (housing, education, any chance of early retirement…) it should come as no surprise that recent polls see those between 18 and 40 overwhelmingly in favour of backing the Remain campaign in the E.U. Referendum. The concept of British-ness is, after all, one wholly owned by another generation.

The under-40s have been the victims of opportunity denial: according to The Sunday Times this week, baby-boomers (those born between 1946-1960) hold more than £1 trillion of net worth in their homes; this is seven time that held by the under-35s. The young hard-working voter must ask themselves: ‘why vote for a Brexit that gives me no more power?’ A Brexit vote just allows the minnow to leap from the frying pan and into the proverbial fire: this time, they’ll be the ones paying wholly self-inflicted taxes, working until they’re 85 to fund a healthcare system that crumbles under the weight of their obese parents.

Why would the young want to be part of an autonomous Britain? Do they really identify with the sort of Britain that builds proverbial walls (isn’t Trump doing that?) and decides without E.U interference to remove the £9k cap on tuition fees, so that any ‘quality’ university can charge what they like, pricing many out of the best opportunities? ‘Sign me up to this club’ the young cry, ‘why, Boris / Ian / Nigel (insert any male name not given to a male child since 1979) clearly has my future in mind…’

The young are not ordinarily the voting bloc that one would associate with being the great defenders of the status quo, but in this political dogfight they are the generation that has no memory of being ‘sold a kipper’ back in the 1975 referendum. The Remain campaign should be courting these ‘young Europeans’ much better, yet they seem scared of engaging in the ideological argument about it being better to knock down walls rather than build them. The young still hope this is true; the world needs the young to still believe this is true. Humankind that thrives on this idea since some young ancestor of ours took a brave step and walked out of Africa.

Both the Brexit and Remain camps have decided the only ways to court the younger voter are (a) to patronize them; an example of this provided by the recent Stronger In Europe video aimed at young people. Perhaps it was the thumping techno-house soundtrack that distracted the video editors into forgetting to put ‘g’s on all the words in the video? I shouldn’t really mind: after all, we’re the generation that’s too jammin to be spellin. The other method employed by the politicos to engage the young, is to shout at them. Witness, exhibit (b): the BBC debate last week aimed at the under-30s. At this debate, a panel with an average age of 60 seemed to forget that the hearing doesn’t start to deteriorate until – on average – your early 60s. The panel came across as a row of boorish Headteachers, modeled on icons such as Dahl’s Miss Trunchball and the Generation Y classic ‘The Demon Headmaster’…

demon headmaster

It is frustrating that the Remain campaign hasn’t done enough to ensure a strong turnout from a generation naturally inclined to support them. Almost everyone I know will be backing Remain if (and this is a big ‘if‘) they can be motivated to vote.

I live by the sea (I can almost see France) and tonight I’m off to enjoy a fish and chip supper (thanks to E.U quotas cod is almost sustainable again) with my children. I just really hope that in a few years time I don’t have to my kids them that grandparents bought all of Brexit’s red herrings and sold them down the river.

NOTE: Apologies for the surfeit of fish allusions in this article: these, including other facts and stats associated with E.U fishing quotas, are key components of ‘Brexit-lingo’. One should be wary of hyperbole claiming that the effect of the ‘migration crisis’ is that our kids are ‘packed like sardines’ in primary schools, or that being a ‘big fish in our own tiny tank’ would be preferable to our current influence in the Aquarium at Brussels.

Refugees – My reflection on the situation and remembering Syria

I was in Syria in 2011. Here are three photographs.

Noria

The one above shows a huge waterwheel in the city of Hama near the Lebanon border. They are called norias there and date from the 5th Century; a time when Britain was officially in the dark ages, forgetting all most of the gifts the Romans had given them. This noria has burnt to the ground now. It took 30 minutes to reduce something that had stood for 1600 years to ash. Most of the city around it is ash too.

Palmyra

In the second photograph I’m sitting with my husband in front of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra. This is the exact place where 25 teenagers were executed by ISIS three weeks ago. They also executed the Head of Syrian antiquities when he refused to disclose where the townsfolk had hidden ancient gold and statues. They have probably blown up the temple too; a temple that was dedicated in 32 AD, a time where Jesus still walked the earth.

Warm Apple Pie

In this one a man, a friend, stands with his arm around me in Aleppo. The restaurant he used to run was called ‘Warm Apple Pie’ – “how Western this seems”, I thought at the time. This man is now probably dead, most of his family are now probably dead, and the restaurant is probably rubble. I hope he is in a refugee camp or among those thousands walking from Hungary to Austria to Germany. You will have seen the news or the photos in the papers I’m sure.

There are tens, hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Syria and Iraq. They are refugees. This is different from being an economic migrant, where you cross borders in hope of a better job, or better financial prospects. Refugees are escaping danger. Most refugees are housed in Camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan but for some, the conditions in those camps is intolerable; they leave and they travel north to Europe. They are looking for a better life, a little bit of this life: and who is to say that that it isn’t due them? We are, after all, citizens of the world. It is not necessarily down to us to say ‘admito te’ but rather that very benediction was given to us all the moment we were born and became part of that ‘club’: humankind.

What does Europe do about all the refugees fleeing across Europe? According to EU law, refugees/asylum seekers must register in the first E.U country they come across. But people don’t necessarily want to stop where they are simply safe; they want a real future for themselves, an education for their children. So they head to Germany or Sweden or Norway or the U.K. Ask yourself – would you do the same?

These people fleeing horrors in their own country put their lives in danger and their money in the hands of people smugglers. Many, many people from Syria cannot swim; in the last ten years 23,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to escape from war torn countries in the Middle East. For refugees trying to make it to a better life, they have a 1 in 20 chance of dying en-route. That is raised to 1 in 10 for women and children.

You will have seen the photo of the dead boy washed up on the beach in Turkey. A few of you will have sunbathed on that very beach. He and his family were trying to get a boat to Greece. The boat couldn’t cope with the waves. He had never been taught to swim. He was three. My daughter is three. It is no age to die.

But that boy – Aylan – is not the only one. The internet is awash with photos of dead children, dead women, dead men… All washed up on the journey to Europe. Some of you will have seen them. Some of you don’t need to: just shut your eyes and the imagined picture replicates the horrors of reality. What can we do?

Four years ago, my now husband asked me to marry him in Aleppo. The minuet under which he asked me has collapsed, the second oldest city in the world in which that minuet stood is now bombed to bits. There isn’t much left. But some of the people are left. They have fled and some find themselves on our doorstep. It is good to help. In a world where politics can often leave the ordinary man helpless, we must help where we can.

Let’s Start Caring about Caring (or why we should ‘work’ less)

Work. It’s just a word right? Yet, to so many, it is the very definition of self. That hurts. I am reminded of a brilliant little couplet by Greg Delanty recently published in The Poetry Review:

Funny, how with the snaky handle of simply one letter the word

is swiftly unsheathed from its own scabbard, and becomes sword

Delanty is right. Words wound. In the context of this article, all too easily your job can become the only thing you are: you are judged (and die) by that single sword. For many, many people living in this country who are full-time parents, carers, grand-parents, they feel isolated by society’s tendency to pigeon-hole by occupation. In our very British way of assuming and imposing order on the unnecessary, these people are left almost without identity.

It is time that we – as a nation – paid far more attention and dues to the things that are not perceived and universally credited as ‘work’. Carers, Parents, Grandparents, Thinkers, unpaid board members, governors, volunteers. As Ann Marie Slaughter is quoted in The Washington Post today: ‘Why do we devalue someone the minute they care for others?’

There is a lot to do here: flex-working, work-time credit for community volunteer hours, a recognition that in an international 24/7 e-future, the 9-5 is dead. People must be encouraged to think that their employment is but a slither of their identity; to think of the self as a colourful pie-chart of many segments. A work-life balance is erroneous, it suggests that if you give too much to one then, like a poorly weighted Goddess of Justice you come crashing down. It is also clear that with most people working/commuting a 9 or 10 hour day, then (given 7 hours for sleep), the scales are already not weighted in ‘life’s’ favour.

The recent press surrounding the Swedish 6-hour working day proposals has also been interesting. Britain has a choice to make: 1) we can bankrupt parents with wrap-around care costs before and after school. 2) we can extend school days to 8 or 9 hours, devaluing the idea of family time and cerebral rest or 3) we can start to stop worrying about working so hard. After all, no worker bee ever died happy; the queen bee grows fat and the drones are swept up with the autumn leaves. We are what we care about. Let’s care about creating a community of carers and thinkers. It is time to make paid employment a smaller part of what we care about. You know what, I bet the world still goes around and the sun still rises tomorrow.

DOES LABOUR NEED A WOMAN ON THE TICKET?

Speaking on ITV earlier this week, leadership-hopeful Yvette Cooper reminded the viewer that the Labour Party has had ‘100 years of championing women’s equality’. For a party that prides itself on being progressive and inclusive, the lack of a permanent female leader in its annals of history is a niggle, an itch; yet this election might just push that itch into a weeping sore if a male double ticket is returned and five more years of WMOs (White-Male-Oxbridge) square up over the dispatch box (Andy Burnam’s alma mater is Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and, of course, David Cameron’s read P.P.E at Brasenose College, Oxford).

As Rafael Behr identifies in a recent article for The Guardian, it is not necessarily the lack of policy which killed Labour’s challenge for the 2015 election; it was the brand that lacked appeal. So, as Labour looks to ‘re-package’ itself in the hope of widening its appeal, we ask: does there need to be a woman on the ticket?

In his astute article Behr also identifies that fact that the about-to-be elected opposition leader may well never reach Downing Street. Those grassroots supporters looking for a white knight or ‘knightess’ may well have to console themselves with a steady-hand leader, someone who won’t rock the metaphorical boat, nor charge with a lancet into the bosom of Cameron. Behr suggests that this leader-to-be will just (excuse the plentiful medieval allusions) hold the fort as talent develops lower down the ranks, allowing a vivacity to emerge in 2020: a new dawn for a new decade.

But do some of the already announced female contenders for the leadership and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party already have the vivacity and panache that could inspire more people to join the party and shape the future of Labour for the better? Certainly Mark Ferguson, ex-editor of Labour List thinks so; he is now co-ordinating of Liz Kendall’s campaign for the leadership.  Certainly Kendall has a fair amount of the ‘real world’ experience that the public cries out for in their politicians; she was head of the Maternity Alliance Charity and also spent time as Director of the Ambulance Service Network. Without doubt she has an impressive résumé and seems to be a modern, resilient woman bursting with energy and ambition. The formidable Tristram Hunt MP has also thrown his support behind Ms. Kendall, calling her a woman of ‘confidence’ and ‘courage’.

Leadership Candidates

So what would Kendall or Cooper – the only two women to throw their names into the mix for leader, thus far, bring to the dispatch box? The academics behind a study published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2011, found that ‘while men may choose to obstruct and delay, women continue to strive to build coalitions and bring about new policies’. Perhaps then, a woman on the ticket could be the answer to the policy-stagnation that Labour has found itself in of late. Certainly, Joseph Folkman and Jack Zenger, posting the results of their study on the Harvard Business Review website, would agree; their study entitled ‘Are Women better Leaders than Men?’– published in 2012 – found that women outscored men on 12 of the 16 attributes that the study had set as ‘benchmarks’ for great leaders.

So far, so good for Kendall, Cooper and the equally inspirational Mary Creagh; this is also good news for the popular Stella Creasy and Caroline Flint who are challenging the front-runner Tom Watson for the position of Deputy Leader. In fact, Labour should rightly be encouraged that of the 7 candidates to put their names forwards for these positions of responsibility, 5 of them are female.  It would thus be unrepresentative of the party’s ambitions and indeed the ambitious if Labour returned a male double ticket to run the party; however much respect Burnham and Watson are due, their investiture as a double-act for Labour would be a thorn on the side of the rose.

In 2007, Harriet Harman tried to change party rules to ensure that either the leader or deputy leader of the party had to be female (actually she still champions a leadership team of 3).  Although this would have been not too large a jump from the introduction of all-female shortlists for prospective parliamentary candidates, the party baulked: too undemocratic. Now the process whereby nominations by MPs create a shortlist voted on my members, may not reflect the true desires of the Labour grassroots and could in a sense be equally undemocratic. It could be a real blow to party democracy and grassroots’ desire, if a popular candidate was deemed too inexperienced to garner the support of the 35 MPs needed to feature on the ballot. MPs should remember that just because you’ve proved you can stand the heat, it doesn’t mean you can start a fire.

So as the female hopefuls for leader and deputy leader go blazing on the campaign trail, knocking on doors in Westminster and harvesting the popular vote on Twitter, the grassroots look to see who MPs will allow them to elect. Labour does really need one woman on that ticket to square up against Cameron, Osbourne et al, let’s just hope the 58% of Labour MPs who are male agree.