Communication breakdown: the damage to the lost generation

Guest post by Mike Indian

There are good days to bury bad news; but someone should establish a rota for the shovel. Three scandals breaking over four days. Not what we need to inspire confidence in our politics at a time when it is desperately needed.

Look no further than the behemoth spin doctors hoped would conceal these lesser indiscretions, the second appearance of Tony Blair at the Iraq Inquiry. Nothing can better attest to blight of mistrust left on a generation than a remark an older colleague made to me last week. He worked with the previous Labour governments and repeatedly reminded them of their failings. Even so, he was caught off guard by the venom displayed towards the ex-PM. In turn, I was surprised he wasn’t aware of the strength of that feeling, among young people in particular. Was this difference generational?

Hearing the calls of objections from mothers of dead soldiers, I’d almost say no. They were the people outside the gates of Downing Street the day Blair left office, to hammer home the price he’d paid with their children’s blood. Yet, I feel repeatedly detect a certain scepticism among my own generation. School age at the time of invasion in 2003, the legacy of a lie rings still stings. Several of them now mobilise protests and attempt citizen’s arrests for war crimes. The legacy of the Thatcher years was an apathetic generation. Did New Labour contribute to a cynical generation?

Young people have little reason to trust politicians. A series of scandals, u-turns and unpopular policies have eroded the optimism of new politics. Just ask the martyr to it all, Nick Clegg. The generational dialogue broke down completely during an episode of Young Persons’ Question Time. An audience of the youthful electorate sat stony faced, whilst politicians peddled recycled briefs on tuition fees for an hour. Only comedian Ed Byrne was able to pin point the problem. You are being lectured by a generation who went to university for free, and now wants you to pay, he said. Got it in one Ed.

Increasingly, the political elite look out of touch, out of sync and untrustworthy. The greater the perceived distance between representative and voter, the greater the anger becomes. Yet, any opposition aimed at exhibition and a headline does not attract the essential factor for success, sympathy. Protestors may have the centre of attention for ten minutes when they gate crashed a lecture by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt at UCL, but after a brush off they were left standing bewildered in the corner.

NUS President Aaron Porter has come under heavy fire for moving to a compromise position on the issue of student finance. Why shouldn’t the grounds of protest shift now that cap has been raised? The NUS has reaffirmed its opposition, but it is not in student interests simply to obstinately reiterate this. By rejecting the spectre of spectacle and positioning itself as a conduit between politicians and the disaffected, the NUS will be able to barter the best possible deal for students. The will is there, all the NUS has to do is get behind it.

As the prospects of this ‘lost generation’ grow dimmer in 2011, the fires of resentment burn ever stronger. But before we see red, remember to take a deep breath. Occasionally, our politicians make a valid point. How have many taken Tony Blair’s repeated warnings on Iran to heart? The Lib Dems stand at the head of a shaky ‘Yes’ campaign on the AV referendum. Failure to get behind them will put this vital reform to bed for a generation. Past sins must not obscure sound advice for the future. We risk missing vital opportunities and early warnings by doing so.

The only victims of the communication breakdown will be the lost generation.

Mike Indian is editor-in-chief of The Groucho Tendency. This post was originally published here.


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