❚ THE MOST EXCITING GENERAL ELECTION FOR 31 YEARS takes place in the UK this week. Since the Conservative landslide that put Margaret Thatcher into Downing Street on this day, May 3, 1979, British voters have seen only one change of political ideology, from right to left (to use the word generously), with the Labour party landslide of 1997. The Conservative government won four consecutive general elections, and Labour governments subsequently won three.
This points up unique new aspects of generation gaps. Half the adult population who are entitled to vote – and this embraces the UK’s delayed Generation X – have known only one political sea-change, while everybody younger than 31 – the 11m that include Generation Y who reached voting age since Labour came to power – have experienced only one flavour of government. Consider the tensions that should be reverberating within this nation’s breasts.
During the 1980s the Thatcher administration shifted for ever the tectonic plates underpinning society (though the concept of “society” was one she as prime minister famously denied). Parallels with today are spookily similar: an unprecedented recession has toppled many supporting pillars of the economy, while unemployment is passing 2.5m just as it did in 1979. Currently one-fifth of all people of working age are “economically inactive”. Among today’s 18-24-year-olds the unemployment rate is 17%, even for graduates. And a decade of austerity is set to declare itself just after the election.
By the dawn of the Swinging 80s, the young had grown very angry indeed with the grown-ups’ way of running things. Yet in the 20-tens, we find ourselves still unsure whether Generation Y are activists or slacktivists. Meanwhile those researchers at Pew already have a shrewd idea about the politics of online social networkers and whether they can be bovvered enough to stray offline and put an X on a ballot paper. Don’t hold your breath.
➢ VIEW VIDEOS ♫ BBC Newsnight’s Danny Robins commissioned fab, bangin’ political party anthems from Haduken!, Right Said Fred and Nu Brand
➢ Generation Jones stakes its claim between the Baby Boomers and Generation X in the UK
Oddly enough, the General Election of 1979 did not seem that exciting at the time. Apart from the fact that we had a female PM after it, no long-term changes were envisaged as Labour and Tories were in and out of office like nobody’s business. I often wonder what would have happened if Mrs T hadn’t got in in 1979. Or President R in 1980. After all, it was from the States that things like the “yuppie” concept subsequently flowed. Come to think of it, I wonder what would have happened if Thatcher hadn’t won in 1983 or 1987, either, or if she hadn’t entered the world of politics in the late 1950s…
I certainly think the 1980s as we knew them could never have existed without President Reagan’s sojourn at the White House.