I belong to the lucky generation – and feel guilty accordingly. Unlike my father, I haven’t had to disappear for years on end risking life and limb fighting fascists: defending my country has consisted of a modest bar-room brawl. My grammar-schooling was free and pretty good – good enough to get me into a decent university for a law degree. And that was free too: I left with no debt to join a prestigious law firm on a single interview… because my dad knew someone. So I bought my first house at 23 and against a background of rising prices bought a nicer one a couple of years later, by which time I was a dad…
Fortunate indeed, but the other side of that coin is the realisation that the current young generation has a very different deal. For years I have tried to help beyond the “charity begins at home” bit by offering work experience to those interested in the law. In one case I actually managed to find a way through to qualification for a lad who would not otherwise have succeeded – a rare win against the authorities. But overall there is not much I can do as an individual.
Do I care? Yes, very much, and not just on a personal level. Many, if not most, of my peers are of the same view. You might not think this of someone whose Beatle-style hair fell out long ago, but the truth is that the next generation really matters and we are not doing right by them – or by us. Why? Quite simply, the United Kingdom has little or nothing in the way of natural resources: it has the advantage of being on the edge of Europe, of speaking a world language, of having an influence well beyond our shores. But our main advantage is our people: didn’t we invent football, rugby, the computer, television, radar, the jet engine, a system of law and of government and many, many other things, to say nothing of a sense of fairness and humanity? And all because of the people who called themselves British.
So to stifle our young people with debt, to withdraw apprenticeships, curb our armed services and generally deny them jobs or a future is not just unfair. It stabs at the heart of our future as a country – and that’s your future and mine. I’m not dead yet and the NHS (another invention of ours, born the same year as me) may keep me going a while longer. As a nation we need to think beyond existing debt, beyond a mere five-year government term of office, we need to invest in our youth to secure our country’s medium and long-term future.
Where are the leaders who will take us there? Of course, the current generation are nothing if not resourceful, and perhaps the silver lining to this cloud is that many are not just sitting on their hands and bewailing their fate. Far from it: as in any group, those with “get up and go” are doing just that. If you can’t get a job, what could be more logical than creating your own? Perhaps the answer to all this is that in years to come we will be able to point to the ultra-successful entrepreneurs and say that they are a product of these hard times.
I fervently hope so.
Geoff is a corporate lawyer, father of four and self-confessed baby boomer.