Sunday 28 May 2017

What's Age Got to Do With It? | TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

The 94 year old writer and activist Harry Leslie Smith wrote in his book Harry's Last Stand: how the world my generation built is falling apart and what we can do to save it (published by Icon Books Ltd in 2014):  

Many people who are younger than me presume that because of my age I have a default setting which makes me, amongst other things, a lover of dogs, suspicious of immigrants, wary of welfare benefits and distrusting of those who possess piercings and/or multiple tattoos (p66). 

Last Friday (26th May) was Jeremy Corbyn's 68th birthday and social media was awash with good wishes, love and support. There were vids of Labour members singing the traditional song; memes (one of which I've included here); photos of messages on pub awnings and elsewhere and evidence of people donating the price of a birthday card (and more) to UK Labour in his name. Mr Corbyn's age is often cited by his critics who, often subtly and sometimes explicitly, draw on stereotypical images and views of older people as 'past their best, to challenge his right to lead the Labour Party and his ability to be Prime Minister. He responds to this as he does to the many, many other insults that are flung his way on a daily basis. Quite simply he does not rise to the mocking and is true to his word to 'refuse to get into the gutter with anyone' and so avoids any personal attack of those that happily and regularly attempt to undermine and besmirch him. Relevantly, a brief glance at his daily, weekly, monthly schedule ridicules any suggestion that he has not the energy for the job.

For those that look beyond the mainstream media it is clear that throughout his career Corbyn has worked tirelessly for 'the many, not the few' and this is reflected in the current Labour Party Manifesto with policies aimed at tackling injustices across the lifecourse. From a commitment to free school meals for all primary school children; the re-introduction of housing benefits for the under 21's through to a commitment to compensate those women, born in the 1950s, who have been financially disadvantaged by changes to the State Pension Law; and a pledge to tackle the loneliness that many of the elderly who are living alone are experiencing. In contrast the Conservatives would have us believe that increased longevity is a burden on society and that one of the solutions to this is a post-death tax that in turn will negatively impact on younger family members. Yet more evidence that the Conservative Manifesto offers anything but a 'stronger, fairer, more prosperous Britain' for all. Harry Leslie Smith again (this time on twitter today):

The fact that Britain now has 4 million kids living in poverty b/c of Tory austerity makes #TheresaMay unfit to be PM not #Corbyn @Harryslaststand

Celebrity endorsement, social media, the polls (although of course I accept the many complexities and provisos that others highlight about these), the numbers of new voter registrations and so on and so forth all suggest that younger people are hearing the Labour message under Corbyn more clearly than us older ones. Having taught in higher education for 27 years I am excited by the energetic way that 18+ year olds are getting involved which is unlike anything I have seen over this time. I am also struck by stories of other, much younger, adolescents and children, asking questions that challenge so-called political truisms. All of this gives me much hope for the future. I appreciate too that despite the increasing understanding of and support for what Labour has to offer, what Labour can do for us, there is much more to do. Encouraging people to think differently, particularly with reference to long-held beliefs isn't easy and a sensitive approach is needed. With this in mind I hope that we can avoid any further ageist blaming and stereotyping in our face-to-face and online communications from now on. 

From the canvassing I have done (anecdotal I admit) it is just as likely to be a young mother who says that she is not interesting in talking and has no plans to vote as an older person living alone and 'that Corbyn's a good un' has been said to me by people across the age range. The crowds Corbyn, and others canvassing to be MPs (and for the Party more generally), attract are diverse in terms of age (as well as gender, ethnicity and dis/ability), and those I meet at local Labour Party meetings and engage in #Labourdoorstep(ing) with includes students, retired people and all ages in between. What this suggests to me is that, in this, as in many aspects of life, there is much evidence of positive cross-generational action. So, (and I'm not denying that some age groups may be more entrenched in their views that others) rather than buying into media discourse that encourages us to dismiss the under thirties as naive 'snowflakes' and/or the over fifties as backward looking 'ice-hearts' let's just all WORK TOGETHER TO to encourage people of all ages that what we really, really need to do is TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May.

NB: I have published a number of political opinion pieces in recent months and with my discipline training in mind I have, in most of these, provided references to support my argument/provide links for readers to read more/check my argument. Over the next few days I hope to publish a number of pieces and to enable me to write more rather than less (alongside my other work commitments) such links to sources will be less frequent. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking about writing a very comparable post over the last couple of weeks, I’ll probably keep it short and sweet and link to this instead if thats cool. Thanks.
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