A plotline running through ‘The History Man’, Malcolm Bradbury’s celebrated satire of 70s campus politics (both social and sexual), involves characteristic mischievousness on the part of the novel’s anti-hero, the promiscuous lecturer Howard Kirk, who spreads a rumour that an infamous eugenicist has been invited to speak at the university; this purely invented grenade that Kirk tosses into the lap of the lefty student activists who view him as being on their side sparks vociferous demonstrations that lead to the oblivious guest speaker receiving an early example of the ‘no platform’ treatment. Bradbury’s 1975 book accurately parodies the hypocrisy of the era in which it is set, both in the character of Kirk and in the advocates of campus free speech who believe the currency of speech only comes free if it mirrors their own opinions. Funny how we appear to have come full circle forty years on.
‘Power to the People’ was not only one of the rare memorable songs produced by John Lennon during his brief political phase in the early 70s, but it was also a buzzword of student activism during the same period. When the People had the opportunity to exercise the one democratic power at their disposal, however, few opted for the Marxist model promoted by the students whose very place at university was thanks to genuine Socialism at work via the post-war Attlee Government. If they had, Ted Heath wouldn’t have been elected PM at the peak of the sit-ins and demos that came to characterise the popular image of student politics at the time.
Four decades later, students possessed by a placard fetish have found a new cause over the past week or so – the result of another democratic exercise on the part of ‘the People’ that hasn’t chimed with their own point of view. They’re extremely angry and they will scream and scream and scream until they get what they want. It worked on their parents when they were children, because those parents caved-in to their every demand – unlike the parent/child relationship endured by the students depicted in ‘The History Man’, who no doubt received a clout round the ear-hole whenever they acted like spoiled brats. Perhaps that’s why that generation decided on a different approach to parenting once they graduated and grew up; and look what that has left us with.
The closing caption in the final scene of the superb 1981 BBC TV adaptation of ‘The History Man’ exposes Howard Kirk’s true colours when it reveals he voted Conservative at the 1979 General Election; I suspect Howard Kirk also voted Leave in the EU Referendum, for he would now belong to the age-group that has been portrayed as the assassins of Yoof in the wake of Brexit. Despite the fact that the baby-boomers, along with tweedy Tories from the Shires and BNP/Britain First white-trash stereotypes, couldn’t have swung the result without the same decision being made by millions who don’t fall into any of the camps carrying the can, they have been singled out as responsible for condemning a generation unaccustomed to not getting their own way to perceived oblivion.
Of course, there are far wider representatives of this generation, ones who can’t afford higher education anymore than their parents can afford to fund it, and their voices have been conveniently silenced by the gap-year backpackers who shout louder than anyone else. To assume everyone under the age of 30 is out on the streets demanding the Referendum result be reversed is to ignore those twenty-somethings denied the luxury of sponging off the savings of their parents, the ones struggling to make ends meet in minimum-wage dead-end jobs without the safety net of mummy and daddy to fall back on when debts need honouring.
It is amusing how the EU has been embraced so passionately by this particular social demographic, adopting the flag as their Facebook profile picture and painting their faces in it for the obligatory demo. Yet, when questioned in vox pops on the street, their actual knowledge of the institution is embarrassingly limited, bordering on nonexistent. The EU has suddenly become a ‘cause’, and like every T-shirt subject to the vagaries of fashion, it’s only a matter of time before it’s replaced by some other hash-tag fad. Declaring the older generation have robbed them of a future or swearing to never again give up their seat on the bus to a pensioner are the reactions of political virgins and/or the ignorant. They have been raised in a blame culture as well as one in which victimhood is chic, so now they can kill two old birds with one young stone rather than questioning why so many of them decided not to exercise their democratic right by actually voting.
Ironically, voting Leave was a far more dangerous and radical move than preserving the status quo, yet it’s perhaps apt that the genuine anarchy the decision could unleash is the consequence not of the faux-radicals waving their silly placards and stamping their feet, those conservatives with a small ‘c’ who believe the communal uniform of piercings, tattoos and unnaturally coloured hair somehow signifies radicalism, but their parents, grandparents and less-privileged contemporaries. Not that they would ever accept this from the womb-like safe space of their cosy echo chamber; they simply respond to being caught out as all children do, by name-calling, finger-pointing and crying. If, as has been reported, some Leave-voters now regret their decision, there must be just as many Remain-voters watching this pitiful festival of sour grapes and wishing they’d gone Brexit after all.
© The Editor