This Demonic Youth

Maybe A-Level results getting better year on year is a sign of young people working harder, rather than of academic decline? (Graph from BBC News website,

Young people today really are little shits, aren’t they?

I mean, if they aren’t lingering on street corners and mugging old ladies, then they are rioting and looting across the country. And then they all take easy exams and get qualifications which aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, because A-Levels have gotten much easier, and swan off to university to do “non-degrees”.

Surely these little bastards are the sole reason why the country is going downhill, right?

Today is, of course, A-Level results day, which means that all across the country 17-19 year olds have been tearing open brown enveloped and gazing upon the results breakdowns therewithin with either glee or devastation, and crashing the UCAS site with judicious mashing of their F5 keys. And the pundits have probably already begun rolling out the tired, annual accusations that A-Levels are a walk in the park nowadays, not like twenty/thirty/forty/etc years ago when you had to wrestle bears just to come out with a pass, or whatever.

It’s the same story every year, and it gets horrendously tiresome.

And on top of that, it’s not a fun time to be a young person at the moment. If you’re not being blamed for rampant civil unrest and the breakdown of society (when it’s actually more likely that you were involved in the clean-up than the destruction), then you’re a feckless waste of space whose achievements are denigrated, and whose very existence is considered a burden.

The fact is, the government makes a palpable show of not caring about the youth- but to be fair, whilst the Lib Dems courted young people at the General Election and then deserted them, the Tories never really seemed to promise them anything at all (leaving aside Cameron’s ridiculous “hug-a-hoodie” PR moment. Tuition fees have been trebled, education budgets have been cut, youth services are being shut down across the country, and even the EMA which would allow less priviliged children continue their education is being heavily curtailed.

But take a look at our society today. This isn’t the Britain of the fifties, where the majority of kids went to work (mostly in industry) at 16, and only the very gifted few went to university. Today we are a post-industrial, largely service economy, and increasingly an undergraduate degree is essential to get anything more than a menial, minimum-wage job. And this is the message that is sent to young people, that if they don’t go to university then they have failed.

With that in mind, is it any surprise that A-Level results would improve year on year? Young people are put under tremendous pressure, because A-Levels are their gateway to higher education. They are forced by their circumstances to work incredibly hard, and the results (I feel) show that.

So here’s to all those who got their results today. Ignore the media, the pundits, and (occasionally, and embarrassingly) the government, saying that you’re some sort of demonic horde, to whom qualifications have come too easy. You’ve worked damn hard, and done damn well, whether or not you met your university offers (or indeed, whether or not you’re going to go to university). The day will come when we’ll be running the country, and I’m not despairing quite yet.

Non-political Politics

Scenes like these, which have marred the cities of England the past few days, are disgraceful. But as well as stopping these riots, we need to find out why they have happened, if we are to prevent them from happening again

Last November, I took part in a mass-march in London, organised by the NUS, against the Tory-led coalition government’s plans to treble tuition fees. I left before they turned into the violent disorder which came to define them, but when the rage of thousands of students crashed like a wave against Millbank (containing Conservative Party HQ), it was clearly politically driven.

Over the last few days, I’ve been watching violent riots and looting, which started in North London and spread across the country. It started because the police communicated poorly after a man was shot and killed in Tottenham, and stemmed from a general deep mistrust of the police in the area. Very quickly it moved beyond that, and young people across London and other cities were rioting, looting and destroying things. And yet, the government’s line is that this isn’t political.

Now, I don’t follow that. I absolutely deplore the destruction that has been rolling across English cities, and if any of them try it here they’ll have to go through me (and, I suspect, a fair number of other Wargrave residents). But calling it “criminality pure and simple”, whilst not being inaccurate, seems to miss the point.

What these young people are doing is criminal, and should be punished, but simply saying that and ignoring any deeper causes seems at best foolish, and at worst catastrophic. Simply put, if the reasons why this has happened aren’t explored and dealt with, then it will just happen again, and in a year or maybe two the shops of London, Manchester, Birmingham and more will be aflame again.

I don’t know the answers to this. However, I have my suspicions. These riots have started, and progressed, in particularly poor areas. Branding the people who live there as “chavs” and “scum” is simplistic. They’re still people, and people who for the most part have had to live all their lives in extreme poverty, and in a materialistic society which prizes products above people. It seems clear to me that when their frustration boils over, it would take the form of such looting as we’ve been seeing.

The fact is that most of these people feel that the world, and specifically the government, don’t care about them. This is underlined by a cabinet full of millionaires, and a Prime Minister whose primary source of irritation at yesterday’s press conference seemed to be that he’d had to cut his holiday short to run the country he is paradoxically leader of. I know that I take very badly to lectures about poverty from people who have never so much as seen it. I can only imagine how angry it makes people who live in that poverty.

I agree that these riots need to stop. They are hurting a lot of people, and are an exercise in selfishness. I’m uneasy about water cannons, rubber bullets and martial law, but a police surge in London seemed to do the trick last night. But what must not happen is for this to be allowed to be labelled “non-political” and left at that.

Politics is not something that happens once every four/five years. Just because the rioters aren’t carrying placards doesn’t mean that this has nothing to do with politics. Politics includes most things in life, and the fact that these people have very little, and what they do have is being slowly taken away through government cuts and disinterest, whilst not even beginning to justify their actions, goes some way to explain the feeling behind them.

What needs to happen is an honest, open debate about why this has happened. And government refusal to engage, as hinted by Cameron’s speech, and more explicitly shown by Michael Gove trying to shout down Harriet Harman making that point on last night’s Newsnight, shows the kind of “brush it under the carpet” philosophy which could tear British society apart before this parliament is finished.