Cameron, Brand and under-25s

By Bernadette Meaden
November 17, 2013

Consider for a moment David Cameron’s life up to the age of 25.

After Eton there was a gap year in which he went to work for a Conservative MP as a researcher. Then his father got him a three month job in Hong Kong with a shipping company. After a trip to the Soviet Union he went to Oxford, where he famously joined the Bullingdon Club and studied for a degree, with no tuition fees. On graduating he applied for a job at Conservative Central Office, and was successful after a helpful call from Buckingham Palace. "The testimonial, of which Cameron was unaware, was an early intimation of how the ambitious Etonian was helped by well-placed friends and family In 1991, at the age of 25, he was seconded to Downing Street to work for the Prime Minister.

No doubt the young Mr Cameron had ability, but his path was extremely smooth and privileged, with opportunities that a young person without money and connections, no matter how talented, could not even dream of.

And yet, if he is in government after the next General Election, Mr Cameron plans to make life extremely difficult for under-25s from an ordinary background. He has plainly stated that if he has anything to do with it, the under-25s will be treated as children, with any financial support based on a strict conditionality that was unheard of in his own younger days. Unemployed adults, including graduates who have accumulated sizeable debts to make themselves employable, would be at the mercy of Jobcentre advisers who could presumably make them accept anything, no matter how unsuitable, simply to survive. With almost a million jobless under-25s, unscrupulous employers must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a massive pool of free labour.

The government shows little respect for many groups in society, and young people from humble backgrounds are one such group. Victims of economic circumstance, they are now targeted for unjust blame and punishment. When Cait Reilly, a 24 year old graduate, objected to being forced to give up her voluntary work in a museum to work in Poundland for her £56.80 per week Jobseekers Allowance, Iain Duncan Smith called her a ‘job snob’.

When questioned about Ms Reilly’s case, Esther McVey spoke of the need to make such ‘kids’ accept whatever the Jobcentre chose to throw at them, again showing no respect to an educated young woman who had the misfortune to graduate in the middle of an economic crisis, and did not, unlike Ms McVey, have a family business in which she could get her first job.

When Russell Brand did his now famous Newsnight interview, his passionate denunciation of the status quo and call for radical change, ‘revolution’ indeed, was engaging and somewhat exhilarating. At a time when the vast majority of politicians never give a straight answer or make an unqualified statement, his boldness and defiance was a breath of fresh air. Brand’s assertion that voting is a waste of time was understandable, given the ever-narrowing parameters of current debate, but it could also be bad advice to the very people who find him most attractive.

We have a politician with the avowed intention of making life more difficult for young people who lack privilege. If such young people do not use their votes at the next election, rather than it being a form of protest, they may unwittingly be condemning themselves to a sort of second-class citizenship.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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