How Politics Left Millennials Behind

If Tony was my teens, Dave defined my 20s. And once the scales of childhood fall from your eyes and you realise that our politicians are fallible and prone to mistakes, the world is a very different place

How Politics Left Millennials Behind

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

I don’t really remember Tony Blair being elected in 1997. Not well at least. I was 9, I wouldn’t be old enough to vote for another decade. What I do remember is going to the polling station with my parents after school, when they finished work. On the way back our dog ran away, we found him cowering at the bottom of our garden fully aware of how much trouble he was in.

Born in 1988, after 9 years on the planet I knew very little about politics. I sort of knew who John Major was. I knew that everybody, apart from my dad, really hated someone called Maggie. I gathered that a lot of people were very excited about Tony. It was apparent that the colours blue and red were involved and signified which team you were on and that Tony had made some members of the blue team quite wish they were on the red team.

Tony Blair was the Prime Minister throughout my entire early adult life, followed briefly by Gordon Brown until David Cameron took over in 2010, the year I left university. Tony was my teens; Dave was my 20s.

Watching Tony Blair speak at the release of the Chilcot Enquirythe other week was a strange experience. Angry as I am with him for taking us to war in Iraq and frustrated as I am about the current split in the Labour party which I can’t help but feel is at least a little bit his fault, I can’t help but simultaneously feel sorry for him and in awe of him. Hearing him answer questions my though process went something like ‘Oh just fuck off to oh, what a speaker…war crimes, wait what? Are you OK Tony? He looks tired.’

Chilcot made me realise that Tony Blair, oddly, provokes the same reaction in me as my dad does. Growing up (pre Iraq) he had the same fatherly glow of invincibility that my dad did. When I saw him on TV I felt reassured and impressed. Now, as with my dad, I see that he is just another flawed human like the rest of us, full of promise but liable to disappoint and get it wrong. Seeing him on TV now, older and slightly frailer I don't hate him, I can't. Against my will I feel compassion for him.

There comes a point in your life when you stop being a child, it’s usually when the veil is lifted and you realise that your parents are a) far from perfect and b) not immortal. Maybe it’s the first time you suspect they’ve grounded you with no real cause, the first time you catch them out on a white lie, the first time you realise that they’ve made a mistake or broken a promise. Once the scales of childhood fall from your eyes and you realise that, like you, your parents are only human – fallible and prone to mistakes – the world is a very different place.

Senior politicians – Prime Ministers, Chancellors, party leaders – are supposed to be the parents of the country their elected by, for as long as they serve. They’re the guardians, chaperones and carers of our democracy. They aren’t supposed to make mistakes or show poor judgement, but they do. Once you realise that politicians, like your parents, are neither superhuman nor omnipotent you see clearly that there is only so much that can be achieved in a five-year political term and all good things seem to come at a cost. The revolving door of Downing Street is powered by a pantomime energy of he said, she said which goes something like ‘my predecessor ruined everything but don’t worry I’m here to fix it’ while we mere citizens attempt to cling on for dear life.

Call it the cynicism of getting older, call it disillusionment or call it a reality check – this is when you know you’re an adult because you’ve been alive long enough to notice a pattern.

For my generation, millennials, the sense of being strapped to a political merry-go-round against our will has been particularly acute. From Iraq to tuition fees, from the housing crisis to Brexit and beyond. And, just as your parent’s actions affect you, just as their parenting policies stay with you – the politics under which we have grown up with has not only shaped the world we live in but our outlook on it. They don’t mean to fuck you up…but they do. We did not become like this in a vacuum.

The absurdity of politics has reached its all time apex in recent weeks. The EU referendum felt like the such an extreme example of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ politics that our so-called ‘leaders’ were not leading by example: from inaccurate figures plastered over buses to threatening ‘Brexit budgets’ which were probably going to never happen and, ultimately, a Prime Minister who we didn’t actually elect.

Such political absurdity has bookmarked my generation’s adulthood. From the futile protests of 2003 against a war in Iraq which has now been confirmed to have been entered into before ‘peaceful options were exhausted’ to the tuition fee hike of 2010, the year I graduated, and the injustices of a housing crisis which our Government refuses to acknowledge, millennial expressions of anger and frustration have gone ignored. Brexit is, really, the icing on the cake. Knowing that so many of the under 30s voted to remain feels, once again, like we are shouting into a vacuum. Screaming at the top of our lungs with nothing coming out.

Each month the Student Loans Company takes money from my pay cheque to put towards a loan I know I will never pay back, every year since I graduated my annual statement has confirmed that I owe more than I borrowed. This Sisyphean story is not uncommon. And now, to top it all off, we're avoiding our parents, grandparents and peers because of Brexit. We skirt around it in the pub or over lunch because we don't want the conflict.

We were born into a world controlled by baby boomers, they were succeeded by happy go lucky Generations Xers who continued to comprehensively and systematically shaft us. Rather than invest in our future they have unflinchingly saddled the upwardly mobile middle class millennials with debts and cut the benefits of those millennials who needed them most. This is true to the extent that the think tank International Longevity Centre has published a book which argues that our governments have been ‘sowing the seeds of the welfare state’s demise’ by failing to reform a welfare system which is increasingly distorted towards propping up spending on older people, at the expense of the younger population who are of working age.

Are we really the uncultured, narcissistic, entitled, flakey and apathetic adult adolescents that the media so often dismisses us as? Call us what you want but don’t deny that the policies of various governments over the last few decades have made it more difficult for us to have a certain lifestyle and level of material security that our parents were able to work towards. Perhaps you’d be flakey too if you didn’t know where you were going to be able to afford to live next year. First generation millennials like myself aren't that young anymore and things don't seem to be getting better. Is it any wonder that second generation millennials and Generation Z dread growing up?

We didn’t evolve in a vacuum; we weren’t nurtured by thin air. We are the product of the society we were born into. We came of age as a global economic crisis set in and all we’ve ever known is politicians who can’t keep their word, break their promises and let us down. That’s not how we were brought up, they can't give us someone we can get behind so we need to step up.

We're the ones who need to 'take back control'.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

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Young People Are More Worried About Growing Up Than Ever

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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