Laurie Penny on Generation Y and the Baby Booomers: Generation why?

Baby boomer apologetics aren't enough for young people who've been robbed of what is rightfully theirs.

"Do your parents love you?" asks Neil Boorman. "Of course they do -- but it hasn't stopped them from robbing you blind." Boorman's new book, gleefully entitled It's All Their Fault, is one of a clutch of works to have emerged this year that analyse the socio-economic crisis facing today's young people. Books like David Willetts' The Pinch and Radical Future, published by the journal Soundings, are easing into motion the rusty gears of generational conflict -- and not a moment too soon.

After the crash of autumn 2008, Generation Y realised with a rush of horror that no matter how good we were or how relentlessly we hammered our minds and bodies into the grooves laid out for us by our parents and teachers, everything was definitely not going to be fine. Instead, we are going to spend our lives paying for our parents' excesses, who have bequeathed us a broken economy, a stagnant job market and a planet that's increasingly on fire. This sudden understanding of just how blithely our future has been mortgaged has been festering for a full 18 months, and now a rash of books has broken out, angry and sore, across the body politic.

Most of these books concentrate on pointing fingers at the Baby Boomer generation, currently in their 50s and 60s, who enjoyed free higher education, generous welfare, good jobs and great music, and grew up to own a vastly disproportionate share of the wealth of the nation. David Willetts's The Pinch, subtitled How the Baby Boomers Took their Children's Future - and How they can Give it Back, makes no bones about who is responsible for the plight of the young. But rather than analysing the effect of the contraction of social mobility on the prospects and potential of Generation Y, Willetts, who hopes to be a member of the Conservative cabinet in a fortnight's time, advocates a return to traditional gender norms, particularly marriage. He prefers to blame the evils of "feminism" for the crisis, offering a decidedly atavistic assessment of "Where It All Went Wrong" that, one suspects, was written with middle-aged swing voters in marginal seats in mind.

Unlike Willetts, Tony Judt at least deigns to address young people in Ill Fares The Land, which takes a far broader view of the political psychology of the young, analysing not just consumerism and the stagnation of social mobility, but also the loss of socialism and social democracy as alternatives to neoliberal orthodoxy. Judt reminds us that "[m]uch of what appears 'natural' today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization, the growing disparities of rich and poor."

Like Willetts, Judt is himself a Baby Boomer. Both men are personally wealthy and successful, at least by the standards of a generational cohort for whom home ownership and meaningful work are distant dreams. And even Judt's otherwise readable book occasionally lapses into half-hearted apologism of the sort that has become a hallmark of privileged Baby Boomer commentary on the "Lost Generation", who are denied the space or the opportunity to answer back.

Radical Future, edited by Ben Little, attempts to create that space, with young people from a range of backgrounds contributing chapters on their experiences of growing up under New Labour. 19-year-old Clare Coatman's assessment of her "Blairite education" and Noel Hatch's analysis of youth unemployment stand out in particular. However, the contributions -- including my own on mental health -- are limited by a sort of desperate worthiness that retreats from real radicalism. Only Boorman's book truly captures frustration of Generation Y at discovering that we have not only been taken for a ride, but are now expected to get out and push.

Boorman identifies the coming general election as a generational last stand, despite the fact that no mainstream party is addressing young voters and the young themselves see only the opportunity to change the face of the grinning dad-a-like who will be mortgaging our prospects. "We have one chance to create change, and this is it," he declares -- but such panicked generational doom-mongering is unhelpful to those young people at the sharp end of the global recession who are wondering where their future went.

It can only be good news for young people that commentators are beginning to notice the socio-economic timebomb we've been handed, but these books fail to offer Generation Y the one thing we need more than anything else: a long view. Rather than presenting young people with a coherent manifesto for our social and political inheritance, contemporary analysis tends to lapse into either helpless rage or blithe apologism. Members of Generation Y already know that this is a terrible time to be young. What we need is the tools to imagine a better world.

The young people of Generation Y don't need your pity, and we haven't got time for a collective tantrum. We need to reclaim our social, political and economic inheritance, and we need to do it now. Raging into the void may be cathartic, but only a coherent radical framework will help us get what we want -- which is our future back.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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The triumph of Misbah-ul-Haq, the quiet grafter

How Misbah redeemed Pakistani cricket.

It was an incongruous sight: the entire Pakistani cricket team doing press-ups on the revered pitch at Lord’s, led by its captain, Misbah-ul-Haq. This unusual celebration marked not merely a Test match victory over England on Sunday but something greater: the rehabilitation of Pakistani cricket.

Seven years earlier, the Sri Lankan team bus was en route to the cricket stadium in Lahore for the third day of a Test match against Pakistan when it was attacked by Islamist militants. Gunfire killed six police officers and a driver; several Sri Lankan cricketers were also injured. That was the last Test match played in Pakistan, which, despite protestations, opponents consider too dangerous to visit.

A year later, Pakistan toured England for a Test series. The News of the World alleged that in the final match at Lord’s three Pakistani cricketers had conspired to bowl no-balls in exchange for money. All three received bans of five years or more for corruption. The entire squad was lampooned; police had to shield its members from abuse as they arrived home.

Misbah was on the periphery of all of this. Aged 36 at the time, he was dropped from the squad before the English tour and seemed unlikely to play international cricket again. But the turbulence engulfing Pakistani cricket forced the selectors to reassess. Not only was Misbah recalled but he was made captain. “You have to ask yourself,” he later said: “‘Have I been the captain because they supported me, or because they had no alternatives?’”

Pakistani cricket prizes and mythologises teenage talent plucked from obscurity and brought into the international side. During his decade as captain, Imran Khan picked 11 teenagers to make their debuts, often simply on the basis of being wowed by their performance in the nets. Misbah shows that another way is possible. He grew up in Mianwali, a city that was so remote that: “The culture there wasn’t such that you thought about playing for Pakistan.”

At the behest of his parents, he devoted his early twenties not to his promising batting but to gaining an MBA. Only at 24 did he make his first-class debut, strikingly late in an age when professional sportsmen are expected to dedicate all their energy to the game from their teenage years.

Pakistani cricket has always been “a little blip of chaos to the straight lines of order”, Osman Samiuddin writes in The Unquiet Ones. Misbah has created order out of chaos. He is unflappable and methodical, both as a captain and as a batsman. His mood seems impervious to results. More than anything, he is resilient.

He has led Pakistan to 21 Test victories – seven more than any other captain. He has done this with a bowling attack ravaged by the 2010 corruption scandal and without playing a single match at home. Because of security concerns, Pakistan now play in the United Arab Emirates, sometimes in front of fewer than a hundred supporters.

Misbah has developed a team that marries professionalism with the self-expression and flair for which his country’s cricket is renowned. And he has scored runs – lots of them. Over his 43 Tests as captain, he has averaged at 56.68. Few have been so empowered by responsibility, or as selfless. He often fields at short leg, the most dangerous position in the game and one usually reserved for the team’s junior player.

Misbah has retained his capacity to surprise. As a batsman, he has a reputation for stoic defence. Yet, in November 2014 he reached a century against Australia in just 56 balls, equalling the previous record for the fastest ever Test innings, held by Viv Richards. The tuk-tuk had become a Ferrari.

Late in 2015, Misbah tried to retire. He was 41 and had helped to keep Pakistani cricket alive during some of its darkest days. But the selectors pressured him to stay on, arguing that the team would need him during its arduous tours to England and Australia.

They were right. His crowning glory was still to come. The team arrived in England following weeks of training with the national army in Abbottabad. “The army people are not getting much salaries, but for this flag and for the Pakistani nation, they want to sacrifice their lives,” Misbah said. “That’s a big motivation for all of us. Everyone is really putting effort in for that flag and the nation.”

Now 42, almost a decade older than any cricketer in England’s side, Misbah fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by playing in a Test match at Lord’s. In Pakistan’s first innings, he scored a century and celebrated with push-ups on the outfield, in homage to the army’s fitness regime and those who had had the temerity to mock his age.

When Pakistan secured victory a little after 6pm on the fourth evening of the game, the entire team imitated the captain’s push-ups, then saluted the national flag. The applause for them reverberated far beyond St John’s Wood.

“It’s been a remarkable turnaround after the 2010 incident,” Misbah-ul-Haq said, ever undemonstrative.

He would never say as much, but he has done more than anyone else to lead Pakistan back to glory. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt