Conservative Party

Where is the Conservative Party's sense of intergenerational justice?


The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

The ‘generation gap’ is not a new phenomenon. The above quotation has been variously attributed to Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero and Hesiod. Others find its origins in a medieval monastery, or engraved on an Assyrian cuneiform tablet, or written on an ancient Egyptian papyrus. In fact (or at least according to ‘Quote Investigator‘), it derives from the dissertation of a Cambridge student by the name of Kenneth John Freeman, and, far from being ancient wisdom, was penned as recently as 1907. But it doesn’t matter: Freeman encapsulates perfectly the essence of intergenerational conflict, and the quotation “fills a niche”, as Quote Investigator accepts.

It is usually the senior generation which tolerates the obnoxious attitudes of the youngsters, for the passing years bring with them a greater capacity to endure with a cool sigh and persevere with the resigned tut-tut of infinite patience. Teenagers do what teenagers do, and adults despair and vent their prejudices to one another over a coffee, pint, or a glass of Chardonnay.

You would think that politicians might do all they can to mitigate intergenerational conflict. After all, when the youth are pressed to revolt, the cultural upheaval has social consequences and economic costs, which politicians then have to sort out. If young people have neither job nor home; if they are devoid of prospect and hope, they must apportion blame. The fault may well be theirs, but certain mental-emotional discrepancies, often born of hormonal asymmetries, can cloud judgment. And so their values adjust to the new context of narcissism, self and greed. Or perhaps that’s a cynical Tory cosmology.

Speaking of cynical Tories, George Osborne’s budget had its good points, its bad points, and its baffling points. The announcement of a National Living Wage (7.20/hr) that is not actually a living wage (£9.15/hr in London and £7.85/hr in the rest of the UK) is the sort of dim politics that fosters bitterness, doubt and distrust. If the Conservative Party must intervene to regulate the market to the extent that no work is better than lowly-paid work, then they ought at the very least to satisfy definitions and fulfil expectations. And why make it available only to the over-25s?

With consent, a boy may marry at 16. So may a girl. They may start a family, play the lottery, consent to medical treatment, and leave the parental home with or without consent. For some youngsters, that may be a necessity, for not all young people hug their mums or go fishing with dad. They may also work full-time. At 18 a man may do all of this and a whole lot more. So may a woman. So why does the Chancellor of the Exchequer create a further arbitrary threshold at 21 and another at 25? Has he really forgotten what it was like to be young? Being in the elite Bullingdon, did he never experience need?

The ‘earn or learn’ mantra is a good conservative ethic. It cannot be right that anyone – of whatever generation – should feel they deserve to live a life on welfare, courtesy of the taxpayer who happens to earn less than those who decide to have eight children and then demand a five-bedroomed house in leafy Hampstead. Benefits should be capped, and there ought to be sanctions against the serial abusers. But what about the youngster in a hostel, forced to flee a derelict den of skunk, coke, vodka and regular beatings? Where does he go when his housing benefit is cut? Onto the streets? What about the young girl fleeing FGM, or the sixth-form boy trying to avoid being packed off to Pakistan for an ‘assisted’ marriage? If the non-living new-minumum wage is set at £7.20, by what moral reasoning is it to be withheld from any under-25s? They don’t all have parents in million-pound houses who might look forward to a tax-free inheritance.

For conservatives, young people are the future guardians of the vast cultural repository of all that is good, noble, beautiful, just and true. They are to be nurtured with liberal virtue and inculcated with democratic morality. For Conservatives to alienate a whole generation with the slur of indolence and the imputation of workshy egoism is to heap anxiety and despair upon some of society’s most fragile, traumatised and lonely. As if it weren’t bad enough that they’ll be forced to pick up the tab for the debts run up by their parents and grandparents, today’s youngsters are bearing the brunt of an intergenerational injustice.

George Osborne may be the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. He ought not to take for granted the old adage that “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.” This has been variously attributed to Disraeli, Shaw, Churchill, and Bertrand Russell. But it doesn’t matter: it encapsulates perfectly the essence of intergenerational political antagonism. If today’s youth sense a lack of intergenerational fairness in the Conservative Party, their hearts and brains will simply seek justice in another place.

  • Ben Ryan

    The logic is, presumably, that by making it cheaper to hire the under 25s they will find it easier to find employment and, therefore, the youth unemployment numbers will fall.

    The loss of housing benefit for Under 25s rather undermines that though, because if one is not paid a wage capable of supporting the cost of rent etc. and is also denied assistance to pay rent in housing benefit then presumably the expectation is that one should live with parents at home. No doubt that’s fine for those who live in areas where there are jobs to be had (London, basically), rather more difficult for those living in areas where there is a general shortage of employment like the Lancashire coast.

    To be honest I’m not sure it matters a bit either way to the Chancellor. He’s a very clever politician and this was a very clever politician’s budget. What his overall philosophy is seems difficult to detect.

  • CliveM

    To be honest a tailoring in of the new living wage seems logical to me. It reflects the difficulty the young have in getting employment, their ‘work’ discipline and perhaps learns a lesson from some other EU nations where high youth unemployment is endemic.

    Tax credits have already distorted the wages market, by enabling many companies making serious profits to pay less then they should do or are capable of, simply because they know the tax payer will top up. As most people affected by this will be in the service industries, which isn’t so easily transferable abroad, the impact on employment should be relatively slight.

  • Stig

    I think Osborne’s overall philosophy is very simple. It is to cut government spending and reverse the deficit. So it is all about where he can cut benefits whilst minimising the hardship that will cause. As for the youth situation, it is a long story.
    When Tony Blair’s government brought in the minimum wage, there was an increase in youth unemployment. Who would employ an inexperienced youth on the minimum wage when they could get an adult for the same money? When there was no minimum wage it was cheaper to employ a young person. So youthi unemployment increased.
    Blair’s solution to this was to send more young people to university. Get them out of the way for a few years and make the figures look better. But of course, we must also make sure that they pay the costs themselves, so in comes student loans and tuition fees, which were paid for by government/local authority years ago – we even used to get maintenance grants. That way Blair could reduce youth unemployment without it costing the treasury. Of course for all those people to be able to succeed at university, the standards had to fall. So we saw GCSEs and A Levels become easier, and the rise of “soft” degree courses like Media Studies.
    Mt Osborne is clearly trying to reverse that trend by effectively abolishing the minimum wage for young people. The hope is that more young people will then find low paid work as in the past, and perhaps for those still living with parents that is viable. But of course for some it isn’t viable, and that is the worrying thing. Increasing the minimum wage for others and cutting benefits clearly transfers the cost of supporting poorly paid people from the state to thier employers, no bad thing in my opinion, employers shouldn’t be able to get away with paying low wages and leaving their employees to be bailed out by the taxpayer. I think Osborne is right to try to address that.

  • len

    The only people(with few exceptions) who seem to have any sense of manners today are’ the older generation’,…the reason for the decline in manners today (IMO) is the’ deification of self’ at the expense of others.To me the perfect illustration of this point is there is a road nearby my house where there is a ‘t’ junction where one waits for a gap in the traffic( which is infrequent) and one gets the impression that some people would rather ram you than give way and let you out….
    With the’ liberalization’ of aspects of man that were better restrained there seems to be a sense of self importance and the demanding of ones rights that was lacking in the generation that is passing….
    I suppose the advent of’ Darwinism’ and’ the survival of the fittest’ mentality and the decline of Christian virtues such as ‘doing unto others as you would like them to do unto you ‘ is partly the reason for the decline in common courtesy and a sense of ‘fairness’ in society today?.
    Of course politicians are no exception to this rule….

    • sarky

      Sorry Len, have to disagree. Obviously having kids of my own I get to meet lots of other kids. In my experience they are always polite, courteous and respectful. Please dont fall into the trap of writing off a whole generation because of something you have read in the daily mail.
      Just for the record some of the rudest people I have ever met are from the ‘older generation’.

      • CliveM

        Rude children tend to have rude parents. There are a lot of good young people around.

      • len

        Some of the rudest people I have never met feature on this blog….

        • sarky

          Nice constructive answer!

    • DanJ0

      Actually I’m lovely and I’m not from the older generation!

      • …. must be getting close though, Danjo.

        • DanJ0

          Many years away from retirement, Dodo.

          • Lol … they’ll pass quick enough, Danjo.

          • DanJ0

            I’ll defer to your experience on that.

      • len

        I never doubted your ‘lovelyness’ for a moment Danjo…..

  • alternative_perspective

    I don’t disagree with the sentiment but I don’t believe we should govern for the majority on the basis of minority need.

    What’s required in addition to these changes is a safety net just for those rare cases your grace highlights.

  • Dreadnaught

    The State owes no one a living. The State is funded by taxpayers. It is not there to subsidise low wages or avaricious private landlords. The clock needs to be reset so that parents take responsibility for for fully funding more than two children. Non married or breaking up couples must be responsible to sort themselves out a compromise other than at the first opportunity throw themselves on to the benefits system and free housing; either that or go back to their parents and family.
    We cannot penalise migrants only for non-contribution and let the British-born feckless, lazy or workshy have a free ticket to ride. The right to ‘rights’ has to be redressed; spelled out in words of one syllable if necessary, that benefits street is not a one-way thoroughfare with free parking thrown in.
    Same goes for the NHS. Strip it back to its basic 1948 provisions of healthcare free at the point of delivery except for self inflicted ailments and failed vanity projects.
    As for manners and acceptible behaviour, from my experience most incomers stand head and shoulders above the accepted low standards set by media outlets, schools and homes throughout the Country.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Milly-Molly-Mandy lived in a home with her mother, father, aunt, uncle and, I think, Grandmother too. In order to get on, they just got on with it, instead of whinging. The state owes no-one a thing, and it is sad when the Labour Party is so anti the idea of anyone actually having to do any.

  • I just hope the reduction of corporation tax to 18% encourages more foreign companies to move or set up anew here as we are I think the cheapest tax option around. This in-turn should create more decent jobs,but it depends on what sort of enterprises come as we don’t need more service sector non productive we want the engineering companies for our young to benefit with apprenticeships.

  • Inspector General

    That 25 years business is a stroke of cleverness. Should give the younger types a chance at employment, assuming the eastern Europeans don’t get there first. It can be hard starting off, but it will be the making of you. We need tough people back in this country, not idlers and loungers…

    For those committed, some rather good advice.

    When food is scarce and your larder bare
    And no rashers grease your pan,
    When hunger grows as your meals are rare –
    A pint of plain is your only man. (Brian O’Nolan aka Flann O’Brien )

    Cheers! The Inspector has that very pint in front of him. Dublin porter, by Guinness.

    • CliveM

      A nice pint. Have another.

      • Inspector General

        When you’ve seen the hearse, and the body’s scarce,
        you know you’ve died of hunger…

    • Pubcrawler

      Personally this man prefers a pint (well, more than one) of proper cask-conditioned English stout. But I digress.

      I used to have the following from At Swim-Two-Birds as my e-mail signature (before my then employer got all corporate on my ass):

      “The three of us were occupied in putting glasses of stout into the interior
      of our bodies and expressing by fine disputation the resulting sense of
      physical and mental well-being.”

      Oh YES!!!! as Father Jack would put it.

  • Jack believes there is an assumption that parents will help and support their children until at least the age of 25 years. This is the age at which parental income is no longer assessed for student loans. It’s also the age at which local authorities no longer have responsibilities for supporting young people who have left their care. So there is some rationale behind it.

    However, it does materially disadvantage those young people who are without parents who are both willing and able to offer assistance in the form of shelter, money and general advice. It also effectively reinforces the already existing delay in couples marrying and raising children. Not good.

    One other point, young woman can seek and give consent to an abortion at 16 years of age. Earlier, as young as 14 years, if she is judged competent to do so.

    • Terry Mushroom

      They can also vote!

  • Athanasius

    Miight this have something to do with the fact that most of the current Tory gauleiters came of age under the appalling Finchley hausfrau? Those with a shilling more are grovelled to, those with a shilling less are dirt?