David Cameron wants to create a land of opportunity but his government's policies are destroying opportunities for my generation.
I remember the first time I was told, as David Cameron collectively told the entire country last week, that the world didn't owe me a living. The town council had invited several kids from my school for one of those typical "nod politely then smile for the photo opp" events. I later found out that the bull necked man with the tweed jacket and halitosis, who so quickly shot me down my teenage attempt to ask a question, had been bankrupt three times. Apparently his bank didn't owe him a living either.
David Cameron's conference address may have been a long way from that sweaty room behind the church hall, but his tone was exactly the same: Overbearing, condescending, burnished with a membrane deep veneer of sincerity. We all know the world doesn't owe us a living Dave. We've been living in it all our lives.
Cameron's speech was a masterclass in that peculiarly Conservative art of saying one thing in defence of policies which will achieve precisely the opposite. He wants Britain to be a "land of opportunity" but opportunities aren't magically granted.They must be created and the policies of his government have consistently destroyed opportunities for the young.
The Tories tend to approach creating opportunity like a motorist does a T junction: Left or Right: The State is the only creator of opportunity/The private sector is the only creator of opportunity. But does anyone actually hold these positions except the fevered imaginations of CCHQ?
Both the state and the private sector can create opportunity and it's in the interests of both to do so. But, as a member of Cameron's own party once said: If you want something, get on your bike and go get it. Claiming you want a land of opportunity then sitting around and hoping someone in the private sector will conjure one up doesn't make you a leader; just a waste of good central London real estate.
By cutting arts funding to the bone, the government will cause untold damage to opportunities for the next generation to contribute, at grassroots level, to one of Britain's major export industries. Culture isn't a production line but a melting pot. For every Harry Styles, Henry Cavill and JK Rowling, there are ten thousand kids at band practice in community centres, watching plays, learning to dance, joining youth theaters and going to writing workshops.
Except there won't be for long. The organisations which run these can't afford to keep them open. See how long we stay top of the world for culture when Simon Cowell is the only producer left in town.
And, just in case you don't think state funding for the arts works, take a look at some of the work from England's first state funded theatre.
The only opportunity this government has created for young people is the opportunity to work at Poundland for below minimum wage. A policy which actively prevents people taking on necessary work experience in fields for which they have studied (and in which, they might actually make a useful contribution to society).
Sometimes working for a living will be dull but that doesn't mean the the state has an obligation to make it as painful as possible. I'm not saying the government should immediately create 30 000 jobs purely for graduates of Art History and Media Studies. But an economy in which graduates of some of the best universities in the world can only find jobs stacking shelves is not one which is operating to capacity.
What about those without university degrees? Surely they shouldn't be immediately consigned to a lifetime of menial labour either? Yet the government has, despite nearly 8% of the country struggling to find a job, managed to make apprenticeships so unappealing that no one wants one. Only a tiny fraction of those expected have applied for the government's new apprenticeship scheme because, rather than on the job training (for which one is traditionally paid) the scheme charge apprentices for the privilege of working.
The Prime Minister's response to this crisis of unrealised potential is to tell my generation to "earn or learn". But earn what Dave? Learn where? There are 52 applicants for every graduate job and cuts to research funding mean universities are forced to charge undergraduates more for less.
This isn't a land of opportunity, it isn't even close. If David Cameron wants to change that, his government either needs to start creating some opportunities itself or facilitate the private and third sectors in doing so. Preferably both. Arguments about state versus private are for political science classes, most kids just want a job.