The left has lost Generation Y

BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast a programme entitled Is this generation right?. It was based on a 2013 study by Ipsos Mori which examined the generational differences in attitudes towards the UK benefits system. According to the study, ‘Generation Y [18- to 30-year-olds] is more likely… to believe the role of the state should be more focused on providing opportunities and less on managing the risks individuals face. This suggests that Generation Y is a more individualist generation than the others, more concerned with personal independence and opportunity.’

Putting aside the rather trite conclusion that views on welfare alone mark the difference between left and right, the findings of this survey do raise an important issue: the inability of the modern left to engage with Generation Y. While, in times past, being left-wing was bound up with ideas of opportunity and social mobility, the left’s present incarnations have patronised and alienated ambitious young people. Policies implying that young people are incapable of self sufficiency, and are in need of constant guidance, vigilance and support have suffocated a generation. Last Thursday, Labour leader Ed Miliband continued this trend by proposing plans to cut youth benefits to ensure recipients would be either ‘earning or learning’. While, on the surface, this looks like Miliband getting tough on bone-idle twentysomethings, it only reinforces the idea that young people’s prospects need to be controlled and managed by the state.

The portrayal of young people today as the ‘jilted generation’ in left-leaning media outlets has further reinforced the idea that today’s youth need to be looked after and nursed into a stable life through governmental paternalism. This runs entirely counter to the findings of the Ipsos Mori study. Its research reveals a generation with an enterprising spirit and a strong belief in its own capabilities. Generation Y is still overwhelmingly liberal and left-leaning, particularly on social issues, but support for the Conservatives is growing – and it’s easy to see why.

Yamir Ash is currently interning at spiked.

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