The Jilted Generation and the Pirate Party

Adam Ramsay reviews The Jilted Generation, a book by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik, that explains how young people are screwed by society:

If you were born after September 1979, this book is about you. You are a member of the jilted generation.

They make a pretty convincing case that our generation has been screwed over. 29% of men under the age of 34 live at home – they can’t afford to leave. Compared to our young parents, those of us who have left home live in smaller, lower quality houses. We are less likely to own them, and much more likely to be kicked out. It’s harder for us to find work than it was for our parents – much harder. The work we do find is likely to be temporary, part time, and badly paid.

I read elsewhere recently that the average age of first-time buyers is now 37, because housing is so expensive. And there’s no need for it to be expensive — using modern technology a two or three bedroom house could be built for around £20,000; when you compare this with the average house price of over £200,000, it’s obvious that this is a pure and simple rip off. And the Tory, Lib Dem, SNP and Labour parties all support this rip off.

Malik and Howker’s analysis agrees with that of Alix Mortimer:

There is a paradox in how politicians collectively behave towards Generation Y. Half the time is spent running after them begging to be allowed to engage with them, to answer their questions, to know what they want, and the other half is spent passing legislation that stops them having any fun and concocting vicious smear campaigns against them in concert with tabloid newspaper editors.The bread and butter of politics for fifty years has really been public services. And Gen Y  don’t use services very much. I’ll qualify that — with the odd exception such as busting an ankle at five-a-side or needing your stomach pumped, people in their twenties just don’t have to engage with services in the same intensive and universal way people in their thirties and forties do. Or people in their fifties and sixties.hospitals are at best matters of abstract importance to most people under 30. (And of course, when they do use hospital services to get their stomach pumped, they’re smeared as evil wasters). And they may be actively hostile towards the police service, sometimes, sadly, with good reason.

I think about what life throughout my twenties was like for me and I come up with three core themes.

1) Money. Like everyone else I was at the start of my career with no savings working quite hard for not much money, and it was a bit hard. Not an awful lot, but a bit.

2) Renting. I was a private tenant. I didn’t have any truly horrendous experiences, just all the usual disadvantages that goes with the experience of tenantry in this country.

3) Drinking. Going to the pub is (in spite of the government’s best efforts) still a lot cheaper than going to the cinema, so it’s mostly what I and my friends did.

If you think about political responses to these three strands of experience over the last decade or so, you will find they were respectively to slightly ignore, to totally ignore and to castigate.

I do not personally recall a single instance of a politician mentioning the “r” word. Private tenants simply do not exist in political discourse. […] Mention first time buyers to politicians on the other hand, and they’ll jump like scalded cats. It’s ridiculous. No party has been able to come up with a real solution for all first time buyers “struggling to get on the property ladder” for a very good and simple reason: prices are too high and Generation X is sitting on all the money.

So the reason for “young people’s disengagement” with politics might just be that politicians can’t or won’t produce solutions for the problems Gen Y most commonly faces, and actively denigrates some of their most important social experiences.

So why do the main parties ignore voters under 35 or so? Part of the reason lies in the word voters; younger age groups are less likely to vote (of course, part of this is that the big parties have little to offer them, so it’s a vicious circle). People under 35 make up about 25% of the electorate and 20% of the voters (numbers are guesstimates, but accurate enough for the argument I’m making), and it wouldn’t make sense for the big parties to appeal to 20% of the electorate if in doing so they alienate the other 80%. As Alix Mortimer implies, lower house prices may be in the interest of first time buyers, but they are not in the interests of last time sellers.

So who will stand up for younger voters? My bet’s on the Pirate Party. The first Pirate Party, in Sweden, got 7.1% of the vote in the European election last year, and over half of male voters under 25 voted for it. This demonstrates the Pirate movement’s appeal to younger voters. Pirate Party UK has so far not had the same degree of success at the polls, but if the age structure of our members is anything to go by, our message is most attractive to young people.

I’m currently standing for election to Edinburgh Council; on the campaign trail recently I spoke to two young residents of Liberton (who sadly aren’t old enough to vote) who immediately got why the Digital Economy Act is a bad law (one of them mentioned Limewire so they are obviously familiar with P2P technology). I also pointed out that houses are cheap to build and asked them in future if they wanted to buy a house would they rather pay £20,000 or £200,000; of course they gave the answer I expected and hoped for. (Aside: if you want to persuade someone to do something, the most effective method is getting them to believe it is in their interest to do so. If we can produce policies that are self-evidently in younger voters’ interest, and can effectively get our message out, we ought to get plenty of votes).

In my campaign in the Liberton/Gilmerton by-election, I’ve highlighted three issues: the Digital Economy Act, transport, and housing. When canvassing, voters have been more interested in the last two, and particularly housing) than the first. This is partly because the bad effects of the DEA haven’t kicked in yet (and some voters have expressed to me the sentiment that “it won’t happen”), and it is possibly also because Edinburgh council doesn’t have the power to strike down the DEA (I say possibly because no voter has put forward that argument to me). But I think the main reason is that transport and housing are issues that affect everyone, whereas the DEA isn’t — as one voter said to me (regarding the DEA): “I agree with what you say, but aren’t there more important problems facing the world?”

It seems to me that the reason Pirate Parties exist is that the old parties don’t understand modern technology. In particular they don’t understand the internet and they don’t understand the consequences now that we’re an information society and no longer an industrial society. (A good example of this is Stephen Timms thinking that “IP address” stands for “Intellectual Property Address”, a level of cluelessness equivalent to the Minister of Transport not knowing what a road or a steering wheel is). So we must explain that narrative to voters and back it up with a series of policies that use modern technology to enrich everyone’s lives.

Furthermore, the main support for the Pirate party is likely to come from younger voters. We’ve seen how this has already happened in Sweden, and in general younger people are more likely to use the internet and new technology, less likely to be set in their ways (and vote for the same party out of habit) and more open to new ideas. So it would make sense if Pirates tailored policies to appeal to younger voters.

My housing policy for the Liberton/Gilmerton by-election does both these things. Firstly, it endeavours to vastly increase the availability of affordable housing, the lack of which is a major generational and social injustice. And secondly, it tackles this problem by using innovative new technology, that produces good quality housing for vastly less cost than was previously possible.

If Pirates are able to connect with the values and aspirations of the Jilted Generation, we could achieve a vote share of 5% to 20%. This would lead us to power in the Scottish Parliament, in the Welsh and London Assemblies, in the European Parliament, and in local government (particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where STV is used). And if we get AV for Westminster, we may even get an MP or two there.

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2 Responses to The Jilted Generation and the Pirate Party

  1. Tom Chance says:

    Phil,

    Out of interest, how would you get the land for free in order to sell houses for £20k? Most of the “value” in privately owned homes is in the land, not the building, and it’s the mad dynamics of the UK housing market that drives land values up.

    It would be very interesting to see the Pirate Party developing policy outside of its core interest areas, including in housing.

    • Phil Hunt says:

      Hi Tom.

      The houses would be built on land that the council already owns or on land currently classified as agricultural land (and therefore with a lower land value) that would be compulsorily purchased (I’d give the owner a 20% premium over the agricultural land value).

      Agricultural land value is c. £15k/hectare, and given that it will be high-density housing, you can build a lot of homes on 1 ha, so land cost would not be an enormous factor in the cost per home.

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