New Labour calls on “the nation” to sort out youth

Submitted by AWL on 22 February, 2008 - 12:19 Author: Max Munday

From binge drinking and the problems associated with it, to privatisation, the dumbing down of education and low paid, “flexible for the bosses” work, life under New Labour has a bit of everything bad for working class youth. At work, millions of working people are paid a pittance, and the younger you are the worse it is.

To add insult to injury the Tories, the government and the media have stepped up the crude cultural bigotry about youth, while competing to find the best solutions to their bad behaviour based on developing ever more coercive interventions. There seems to be no end to the negative categorisations of working-class youth which dehumanise individuals and transform them into either statistics (39% of young people “binge” drink) or figures of fear and ridicule (“chavs” and “hoodies”).

Many of the young people who are classified as “binge” drinkers or who drink a lot, do it because they enjoy it. They get excitement and a positive “collective” feeling from drinking and being out on the streets. If that’s all you’ve got, is it really the place of politicians to stamp down on it? The problem is the fighting and different types of crime that accompany “binge” drinking — their peers, the elderly, their parents, communities shouldn’t be subjected to violence and abusive behaviour of some youth. So what is the answer?

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith has some answers. She has said that the government will use many routes to change the behaviour of disorderly and drunk young people. Along with existing family interventions into “problem cases” there will be more parenting programmes, contracts committing parents to an authorised method of parenting. Schools will be made to clamp down harder on the “problem cases” — no doubt making them even more isolated from their teachers and motivated peers. Police will confiscate alcohol from young people and prosecute more of the shops that sell booze to underage customers.

In a gesture to appease those who think that policy should be more than just punishments, the Home Office has also said local services will be “more responsive” to local people and there will be more activities for young people. “More responsive” like “ more choice” in the vocabulary of New Labour will probably have some privatisation, contracted-out agenda attached to it.

And recent proposals for extra curricular activities have included the training and deployment of working class youth to the Middle East on imperialist adventures — can we expect more of this in the future?

Everybody in this debate has missed (or rather ignored) the only response that will really change the status and outlook of alienated youth: the positive collective action of the youth themselves; the knowledge that as an organised class, with their peers and their communities, they can do something to change “sink estates”, fight for better jobs, education and training and challenge the ever-more complex ways the authorities blame and shame them.

New Labour’s policies are a diversionary tactic to pull attention away from working class self-empowerment by focussing on a “national crisis” and a “national effort”.

Such a response is typical of a government that responds to fears and scare-mongering within the middle classes — be it immigration, obesity, terrorism, climate change or education — with a call for the nation to get active, for “stakeholders” together to find solutions.

But where are the young people themselves in this series of great national efforts? Who are the people representing them? Are they taking part in discussion about new home building? Are they involved in creating inspiring estates and public spaces? Or are developers given a free reign in constructing more glass-fronted, chrome-laden blocks of expensive flats?

Is the school curriculum being amended to shape education to fill the intellectual, emotional and practical needs of young people? Or are schools and colleges filling timetables with uninspiring vocational courses that pander to a stratified labour market, that separate people out into historians and hairdressers (the idea being that you cannot be both)?

New Labour poses as a neutral arbiter between competing interests in pluralist society. In fact it wants to be a bureaucratic enforcer of a morally homogenous nation.

Seeking to create from on high a “culture of respect” using a combination of family policing, the education system and shallow spin politics, can only side-step the hard underlying socio-economic issues.

They want to erect a barrier of moralism between the civilised middle class and the “swinish multitude” whilst talking abstractly and pointlessly about bringing communities together.

Working people within the labour movement should draw sobering lessons from this approach to young people: when your representatives mix utopian rhetoric with “paternalist libertarianism”, add privatisation to further distance communities from control over their homes, services and environment, you have a disastrous future for children.

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