Our relationship, as a nation, with traditional political institutions is in the toilet. This is particularly evident for my generation, who consistently vote and unionise less. Many of us don't see traditional political institutions as viable vehicles for political change, and who can blame us?
All our lives politicians have been failing us, governments have at times directly discriminated against us and our identities as citizens have been assaulted, with the meek and passive consumer mantle proffered instead by a political ideology that despises democracy. This ideology is neoliberalism- the obsession with privatisation, deregulation and market forces, and has dominated political discourse throughout my generation's lifetimes. This election is the first time a chink in the armour of that ideology, one that has caused so much political and social dislocation, has opened up- this much hasn't been at stake in decades.
I was born in 1992, just as Thatcher's project was coming to an end, many of its broad goals complete. Unions were shattered, inequality was through the roof and the powers of the state had been curtailed in some areas, undermining its role in shaping society- we were the first generation to be born into the neoliberal consensus. It was a society that was becoming more consumer-orientated and less inclined to collective political action and a world where corporations, the rich and powerful few, were in ascendancy.
Then, when I was 4, Tony Blair came into power, offering a 'Third Way', apart from traditional left politics but supposedly different to Thatcher's approach too. It would be wrong to deny that solid progress was made on a number of issues, such as child poverty, and New Labour should be applauded for that, but the ideology that underpins so many of our troubles was left largely unchallenged. We saw the abandonment of the idea of the state challenging broader economic and social trends (such as neoliberalism and globalisation), continued cosy collusion between state and big business, propagating the market fetish of Thatcher's years and Labour playing a role in the marketisation of higher education. Voter turnout plummeted, most pronounced in younger people, and little was done to curb climate change, inequality or the power of big business.
When I was 15 a financial crisis rocked the globe, and the Conservatives soon after came to power (first with the Lib Dems, who betrayed young people on their tuition fee pledge) through a campaign based primarily on lies: the notion that state overspending had something to do with the financial crisis, and that austerity, the stripping back of more state capacity, was the necessary cure. Instead of an event that should have highlighted the profound flaws in capitalism and poorly regulated banks, it was instead used as an opportunity to rip up vital services and therefore harm the poor and vulnerable. My generation, along with other minority groups, bore the brunt of this austerity, with the marketisation of higher education kicking into overdrive and a variety of cuts impacting the financial support available to younger people.
Time and again, successive governments have failed us. Thatcher ensured we were born into a deeply unfair and struggling society, Blair and Brown did too little to change this and Cameron and May have introduced new forms of suffering, deliberately targeting our generation at times too.
We are burdened with enormous debts. We are (or will be) the products of a higher education system riddled with market reforms that reduces its ability to create knowledge and passion and instead forces us to obsess over 'employability'- scrambling for jobs that just aren't there. The younger of us are often discriminated against in pay and welfare. The prevalence of mental health issues, a big problem for many my age, is alarming. Major political issues, such as climate change, inequality and workplace automation, that will become serious, life-changing issues in our lifetimes, are left largely unchallenged, if not exacerbated, by the political and economic elites that dominate our existence.
The major political choices on offer have looked, for too long, too similar and nothing like us. Above all else, neoliberalism, the political and economic system that has so shaped our lives and lies behind many of the problems described above, everywhere seeks to undermine the idea of collective political action and replace it with an isolating individualism, inculcating my generation perhaps more than any other into the cult of consumerism. This isn't to say no good was done for my generation (as highlighted, the Blair years saw some, limited, positive change) but on so many issues, and certainly on the general approach to politics and the economy in our lifetimes, we have been continually let down.
For the first time in our lifetimes, however, a major political party is offering a break from a failed economic model. Labour are pledging to scrap tuition fees (strictly a little late for 'my' generation, but beneficial for younger people), to re/nationalise key industries, reclaim trade union rights, enforce a £10 an hour minimum wage (for 18 and above too), to take solid action on climate change, to invest in infrastructure, education, health and job creation and are offering a vision of Brexit that secures, rather than destroys, worker, migrant and environmental rights, all at little to no extra cost to anyone but the already very wealthy.
Corbyn isn't the answer to all our problems (in the long-term, we'll need an even bolder agenda to challenge the problems we face), but he is the start of one. Labour's proposals would begin to challenge the power of the wealthy few and to give the rest of us the resources and space to challenge a corrupt and biased system. I see so much talent and ability in my generation, so much to celebrate and be proud of, but so much of it is held back by a system that obsesses over profit and growth. We are our own saviours, but a government genuinely on our side is not to be sniffed at.
There is, I believe, a deep sense of frustration with the system we live under in my generation. We have a chance, finally, to challenge this system that has so brutally failed us, and to have a more responsive government that tackles the issues that face us- and it starts by engaging in this election. We need to throw off the shackles of disengagement that have bound us far too often and agitate and organise for a new kind of government come June 9th. We've gone without change for far too long.