Campus Soapbox

23 01 2007

This article was published in the University of York’s Guardian award-winning newspaper Nouse on 23rd January 2007.

As we move into the fresh year of 2007, the British political landscape appears ready for change. We are assured of a new Prime Minister by early summer, the two opposition parties will begin to set out their stalls and we may even see a General Election. But our country’s politics are also facing a much more long-term shift.

For over half a century the ‘baby-boomers’, who are now just a little older than most of our parents, have dominated British politics. Their conception was encouraged by the post-war government. The NHS was designed to keep them in good health. Their education was, on the whole, some of the best our country is ever likely to see (They were even paid to go to university). In adulthood they have enjoyed the economic buoyancy of the Thatcher years, and as they now consider retirement it is no surprise to see Pension Reform hitting the political agenda. Perhaps inevitably in a democracy, such a populous section of society with its accompanying voting power receives the most attention from our politicians.

However, the end of the age of the baby-boomers is in sight. As retirement, and of course nature take their course, the baby-boom generation is starting to lose its electoral clout. Into its shoes must step a New Generation. Our generation, shaped not by post-war austerity but by Thatcherism, reaches maturity at just the moment when we can have an enormous influence on the future of our society. If we play our cards right we have an opportunity to define our country’s political agenda for the next fifty years.

What do we want to do with our new power? The New Generation faces many of the old challenges, and many new ones as well. But I would suggest that the first issue we must look at closely is our political system’s relevance to the electorate of the 21st Century. Major constitutional reform is often advocated, but more subtle changes need to be explored first, and questions asked about the sustainability of a party system without ideology.

Once this has been addressed we can move on to consider the great issues of our time. It would be presumptuous even to try defining what those issues are, but as we indelicately extricate ourselves from Iraq it seems wise to reassess what we want Britain’s role to be on the world stage in the next century. Our Prime Minister-in-waiting seems determined to define a sense of British identity for modern times and following his lead may be a very good idea considering the cultural instability we see on our doorstep. It is also, surely, time to give some direction to the European issue. Decades of drift and dithering over Europe have benefited nobody. The New Generation can and must bring new attitudes to the table.

Then there are the less obviously political issues – our relationship with the developing world and the environment, the challenge of accommodating the decline of the family unit into our society, and the rise of religious extremism and intolerance.

All these challenges require deep thought and fresh thinking from our generation – it is we who will have to live with the consequences of our success or failure in addressing them. As we begin the long farewell to the age of the baby-boomers, now is the time to lay the foundations of our own half-century in the spotlight. It is an exciting time to be part of the New Generation.

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