If you think that previous generations had it so easy then you’re kidding yourself. Photo: Getty
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Despite the best efforts of Cameron’s Britain, being in your twenties is actually great

Yes, we’re facing a housing crisis and mass unemployment, but your twenties can still be the time of your life.

Ah, millennials, they’re such arseholes, aren’t they? What with their Buzzfeeds and their hashtags and their Tinder-swiping and their “special snowflake” senses of entitlement bequeathed to them by the baby boomers. Yep, millennials get a seriously bad rap, mainly because the word “millennials” in itself is the ultimate in media douchebaggery (though “Generation Y” must surely come in at a close second.) And really, considering the fact that we’re universally acknowledged to have been financially shat on by our parents, it doesn’t seem fair that we have to deal with the bad press as well.

Obviously, only a fool would think that all the members of a single generation are slaves to the same motivations, but from reading daily media coverage you’d be forgiven for assuming that we’re all Whatsapping pictures of our newly trendy American Apparel-endorsed bushy vaginas to each other over dinner at SushiSamba. Either that, or we’re being forced into sharing beds with one another in between our various unpaid internships for start-up companies based on the Silicon Roundabout, all the while bemoaning how much easier that pesky parental generation of ours had it with their free educations and the houses they paid £2.50 for in 1973. But guess what, media people? We’re going to buck the trend here. Being in your twenties is actually great.

Though “millennials” are either cast as entitled hipster layabouts too complacent to pay their dues, or an entire “lost” generation robbed of opportunity, the truth is, we’re neither, or maybe a bit of both. True, recession and living under the coalition has been no picnic, and it’s no wonder that we may hold a smidgen of resentment towards the cushy nineties lifestyles of our elders (we fully missed out on the dizzy heights of Britpop and have never been to the Groucho Club – it’s a wonder we can still go on), however, things aren’t as bleak as all that. They may say we have no future, and believe us, when you’ve just been sick outside the Jobcentre and you’re on a comedown and it’s raining and a man is standing inside, demonstrably dry and sadistically tapping his watch, it may well feel that way – but there are plenty of other things to be thankful for.

It’s become rather fashionable to say that your thirties and forties are way better than your twenties. Hell, they probably are, because you might actually have money and no longer be a prisoner to regular panic attacks about who’s going to pay the internet bill and what might happen if you get cut off from Twitter. Yes, we’re facing mass unemployment and a housing crisis resulting in such low rental standards that the rising levels of damp enable you to grow your own mushrooms for sustenance, but your twenties can be the time of your life. If you think that previous generations had it so easy then you’re kidding yourself. When Rhiannon’s mum felt that she was being too picky over finding a place to rent, she made a list of all her twentysomething abodes, and most of them had no central heating and collapsed ceilings. It was like, “Bitch, please: you think you’re the first person to have had a garden full of mattresses?” Holly’s mum squatted in an abandoned house in Cornwall in her teenagehood, and mentions ominously of that time that she will “never discuss” the intricacies of the living situation. In other words, we need to stop thinking we’re the only ones who’ve had it rough.

Being in your twenties in 2014 is great for a number of reasons. You can fuck up and people will look kindly on it because, hey, you’re only 24 and you don’t know any better (one of our friends’ dads says that you’re not a proper adult until you’re 30). If things go wrong, you can move back in with their parents and no one will automatically assume that you’re spending your time harvesting organs in a soundproofed cellar to a soundtrack of the Carpenters (if you don’t have parents, then it’s the foodbank for you, but let’s not kill the optimism while we’re in the flow, yeah?)

You can make terrible relationship and fashion and career choices and come back from them unscathed and in possession of a brilliant amateur stand-up routine - in fact, if you don’t, you’re seen as needlessly vanilla. You can get an interest-free overdraft, at least for a little while before they start sending you endless letters and you have to move house. If you’re renting, you can up sticks at relatively short notice, without having to worry about the terrifying consequences of a mortgage and a partner. Unless you’re in your twenties and you actually have a partner and a mortgage - in which case, all your friends will be jealous of you.

You have the entire internet at your fingertips, and you know how to use it to your best advantage. You’re young enough to harness its powers, but old enough to realise that people really do screenshot their Snapchats and a lot of what goes online might stay forever. You can still think your band is going to make it, and no one will think you’re pathetic. You’re sexually liberated, perhaps even more so than the previous generations – you’re certainly much less likely to be called a slut when sleeping with who you want, when you want, if you’re a woman. Among your age group in the UK, whatever the class bracket, homophobia and racism is fast becoming a huge taboo and is pretty much guaranteed to make everyone hate you. You can marry whomever you want, regardless of their gender. You can move anywhere in the EU and be in your twenties there instead. And when it doesn’t work out, you can come home crying and have a complete life rethink and no one will think you’re a failure; they’ll just think you made the most of your youth.

That’s not to say that everything in your twenties is easy breezy. This government couldn’t give a toss about young people at the moment, and there are huge social and economic problems that need tackling urgently, but it’s time that we reclaim our twenties and acknowledge the positives. So many of the people we know, regardless of their race, class background or economic situation, are doing incredibly exciting things (even if it is in between signing on). Whether it’s becoming young parents, travelling around Argentina, writing a novel, doing up a dilapidated terraced house and turning it into a home, going back to university after raising a daughter, living in Berlin, making your own clothes, doing TEFL in South Korea, becoming a champion pole dancer, working in the best pop-up cocktail bar the hipsters of Hoxton have ever seen, taking your two babies on a crazy-round-the-world trip, setting up your own business or working shitty long hours in an underpaid job and getting spectacularly lashed on the weekends, chances are you’ll be having some fun while doing it. Your twenties are a time where you, for fear of sounding corny, work out who you are. You make mistakes, drink too much, embarrass yourself, and you may be perpetually skint, but you’re also making stuff happen. And in light of the mess the country’s in (altogether now: Cameron’s Britain!) that’s a huge fucking achievement. Let’s carry on doing it.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Photo: Getty
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The new French revolution: how En Marche! disrupted politics

The rise of Emmanuel Macron's party has shattered the accepted wisdom.

Alexandre Holroyd bears many similarities to his new boss, Emmanuel Macron. Like the French president, a former banker, Holroyd started his career in the private sector, at the management consultancy firm FTI. At 39, Macron is the youngest ever French president; Holroyd is nine years younger. Both are strongly pro-European and confident in their common mission.

“The Assemblée Nationale is going to profoundly change,” Holroyd told me, sipping fizzy water in a café near St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 16 June. Two days later, in the second round of the French legislative election, he was elected France’s MP for northern Europe – one of the 11 constituencies for French expats around the world – representing Macron’s party, En Marche! (“Forward!”), which swept to a resounding victory.

“People said, ‘These newbies from En Marche! won’t know what to do,’” he told me. “But they will reflect French society: diverse, equal, with multidisciplinary experiences.”

Macron’s election in May capped a remarkable 12 months for the former economy minister, who left the Parti Socialiste (PS) government to run as an independent candidate. But the real power – of the kind that will allow him to implement the liberal reforms he has promised France – arrived only with the legislative election victory.

En Marche! won 350 of the 577 parliamentary seats, a majority that should enable the president to pass laws in the house easily. And the party did so by selecting younger, more socially diverse candidates than is usual in French politics. As with Holroyd, most of the candidates for En Marche! were running for office for the first time. When the National Assembly reopens, three-quarters of the faces will be new.

The renewal of the political class was one of Macron’s main campaign pledges. “There was this will to stop the two main parties’ [the PS’s and the Républicains’] sectarian obstructionism,” Holroyd said. “The French people are fed up with it.”

Much like a Silicon Valley start-up disrupting a sector of the economy – Uber with taxis, for instance – En Marche! sought to disrupt French politics. Macron launched it in April 2016 as a “political club” while still serving in François Hollande’s government. Three months later, more than 3,000 people attended its first event in Paris. The movement welcomed people of all political parties, allowing them to sign up for free online.

Today En Marche! has more than 240,000 supporters. The party’s main source of funding was individual donations and during the presidential campaign, it raised €6.5m. (Macron also took out an €8m personal loan.)

The rise of Macron and En Marche! has shattered the accepted wisdom of French politics: 39 is too young for a president; one cannot be “neither left nor right”; a career in the private sector does not lead to politics; no one can run for the presidency without the support of a pre-existing party.

Yann L’Hénoret, the director of the documentary Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise (available on Netflix), described En Marche! as a “very young” team in which “everyone could give their own view” before Macron had the final say. “Young people are said not to be politically engaged. I saw the inverse, every day, all the time,” L’Hénoret told me.

En Marche! members set up more than 4,000 local committees across France and beyond. Anyone interested in Macron’s project could create one and invite family members, friends and neighbours to take part. “Engage in a march, a conversation, a dinner,” the movement’s website suggested.

The groups then started “the Great March”, a canvassing initiative. “It was like an audit of the society,” said Holroyd. A dual citizen of France and Britain who grew up in west London, he became one of the early marcheurs in July 2016, when he quit his consulting job to set up the London committee. He had never been a member of any party before but Brexit acted as a trigger. “I saw my father’s country tearing itself off from Europe and realised I would regret it if I didn’t contribute to Macron’s project, whose European values I profoundly share.”

A graduate of London’s Lycée Français and Kings College, Holroyd could easily engage with his French expat peers – something that helped him win 70 per cent of the vote in the second round. “The only other party to go and talk to the people was the Front National,” Holroyd said. “The particularity of En Marche! is that many members came from the private sector. It’s exceptional in politics that people in the party have professional experiences. It spoke to many people.”

As En Marche! crowdsourced its candidates, it also ensured that its policies resonated with their locals. During the London “march”, 95 per cent of the participants told the committee that they were expats in the UK because of the economic opportunities here. Macron wants France to be able to entice professionals, too. Financially and socially, his goal can be summed up as: “Make France attractive again.”

Achieving a parliamentary majority has boosted Macron’s hopes of implementing major changes. Reforms may start as soon as this summer, with a liberal reorganisation of France’s rigid labour laws, which currently offer strong protection for workers. “France must invest in the industries of the future,” Holroyd said, quoting his president by the word. “Renewable energy, denuclearisation, ecological transition . . . We must become champions in these fields.”

Despite the scale of the victory, Macron’s team will have noted that the turnout was at a historic low on 18 June – at 42 per cent – suggesting widespread voter apathy. And despite its much-praised social diversity, En Marche! has only one working-class MP for every five middle-class ones. “We are conscious that we’ll be in a difficult situation if, by the end of the mandate, things have not changed for the people who have been left behind for years,” Holroyd said. “Those in outer suburbs, in post-industrial and rural lands.”

If they are to succeed, Macron and his MPs will have to find a way to win them over.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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