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We are governed by Peter Pans who refuse to look after the next generation

The Tories have a young-people problem – the problem being that young people hate them.

The standard complaint against the cohort now entering its thirties is that we spend our time hiding from the student loans company in our parents’ basements and making five-pound artisanal lattes for our cats. The predictable reply is that it’s easy to say that when you enjoyed a free university place, a stable job and a livable welfare system to fall back on, and the house you bought for a tenner and change in 1972 is now worth two million or more.

Adulthood isn’t something you can buy or bargain for. A great many people of a certain age assume that because they have a spouse, a house and a hatchback, they are grown-ups and therefore deserve respect. The youth of today, however, are largely unable to afford any of those things and so have had to settle for working on our actual personalities and trying to build a future that isn’t so hellish.

When I first started writing angry whippersnapper columns for this magazine, I was 23, and it was somewhat expected. Everyone assured me that in a few years I’d settle down and learn to love late capitalism and be delivering screeds about how young people don’t know they’re born from a three-bedroom in Hampstead. This has not happened. They lied, again. As a female writer, of course, there is a very small window of time between being a “silly little girl” and a “bitter old hag” when your opinions actually count, and I believe it happened for me some time on a Tuesday in 2016 when I was in the shower.

I am now contentedly embracing hagdom, and have a serious appreciation for actual maturity in all things, and the second I see it in mainstream politics I’ll sign up. Unfortunately, most of the actual grown-ups I know are my age or younger. 

Instead, we are led by an array of wizened children. The policies being pursued by the centre-right and the dregs of the neoliberal left are stubborn, selfish and infantile. How else are we supposed to think about the blind insistence that the same ideology that collapsed the world economy ten years ago will work just as well this time with a side-order of flailing, screeching nationalism? Our political leaders today have all the entitlement and lack of foresight of little kids with none of the instinctive sweetness and wonder. If you heard that Philip Hammond had an appreciation for the wonder and magic of childhood, your instinct would be to call the police.

The Tories have a young-people problem – the problem being that young people hate them and don’t want to vote for them. This is a problem that successive Tory leaders have been childishly kicking down the road until they could no longer avoid the spectre of “natural wastage”, which is a terrible way to talk about the fact that the loyal voters you bet the farm on are going to keep dying no matter how hard you ring-fence their pensions. Now, apparently, the Tories want to attract the young. The trouble is that they think this can be done with a swift rebrand and some slick lines. They’re skulking about like worn-out pick-up artists in a club at closing time, desperately trying to find someone under the age of 30 whom they haven’t already screwed. Well, perhaps they should have thought of that before they tripled tuition fees, tore up the welfare state and set the damn planet on fire.

Of course, there are always some throwbacks. As the Prime Minister lip-wobbles her way through another embarrassing round of talks about Brexit, that 70 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds voted against, we are assured that the Tories are looking for their own “young stars” to pass the torch to. The problem is that today’s young Tories are – I’m trying to think of a polite way to put this – the most wheedling bunch of gropers who ever had a sly wank to the portrait of Maggie Thatcher in the prefects’ room. Their heads are empty of any image but their own in nicer suits and in power, their faces are flushed as if they’re being strangled by matching college ties of cultural irrelevance, and they still have the afterbirth of finance capitalism all over their smooth, pink cheeks. They have already had business cards made for a future that is not coming. Pay them no mind.

In fact, young people don’t necessarily want to vote for young people. What attracts this solemn, unparented generation these days is politicians who behave, uncharacteristically, like grown-ups. Not the sort of grown-ups who scream at you for respect they haven’t earned. The other sort. The ones who can assess a situation in terms other than how it will personally benefit them.

This, rightly or wrongly, is the impression Bernie Sanders gives, and the impression Jeremy Corbyn gives; the impression of actual adulthood, which involves a certain amount of unselfish forward-planning. When Corbyn says that he is personally against the monarchy but he understands that not a lot of people share that view so we’ll table it for now, you actually believe him. He seems like he still doesn’t know a lot about social media but is probably really polite and respectful to the sneaker-wearing people who run it for him. The government, meanwhile, has probably by now captured some hipsters and offered them free rent in a warehouse under Whitehall if they keep churning out dank memes.

It’s not hard to figure out what young people like. They like secure housing, affordable education, fair wages and, as it turns out, unfortunately for the Tories, socialism. To plan for the future or provide for the young is to accept the inevitability of one’s own ageing and death, and this is something the Peter Pan generation currently clinging confusedly to power refuse to do. They have never accepted that there will be a world after them, which is what adulthood actually involves. This is why it’s up to the young to be the adults now. 

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

This article first appeared in the 26 October 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Poor Britannia

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No Ricky Gervais, defending offensive shitposters isn’t a matter of free speech

The freedom to joke is not in jeopardy.

Ricky Gervais has gone on the offensive.

 Not in his usual manner – calling people ‘mongs’, doubling down on his transphobia by comparing trans people to chimps in his latest standup special or by foisting The Invention Of Lying on an unsuspecting public.

This time he’s thrown his considerable heft behind a gent who goes by the name of Count Dankula. In the likely event you don’t know who Mr Dankula is, he’s a “self-confessed shitposter” whose hobby is posting videos filmed in his bedroom on Youtube with titles such as “Give minorities all your money”, “Eating ice cream is gay” and “Snapchatting your balls to a Livestreamer”.

Count’s stock in trade is point-missing whataboutery, finding the extremes of an otherwise reasonable view to try and discredit it, and generally being the guy you get stuck next to at a student party who has some views on veganism that will blow your tiny provincial mind, dude. 

Dankula came to the attention of more than just his 130,000 Youtube subscribers recently by being found guilty of breaching Section 127 of the 2003 U.K. Communications Act, which prohibits "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, or menacing" electronic communications.” He did this by repeatedly saying “Want to gas the Jews?” to his girlfriend’s dog, making it watch Hitler rallies and trying to teach it to perform a Nazi salute. All the relevant information on the case was viewed by the court, the evidential standard was deemed to have been met, and the verdict was given. He is due to be sentenced in April, with a maximum sentence of six months theoretically possible (although extremely unlikely for a first offence).

People have leapt to Dankula’s defence and for the defence of “free speech”. These have included Katie Hopkins (who described migrants as cockroaches”), snake-oil salesman and Alex Jones glove puppet Paul J Watson and convicted criminal Tommy Robinson, whose hobbies include punching migrants

Milo Yiannopolous would no doubt be supporting him on Twitter too, had he not been thrown off for expressing grossly offensive views.

These people and their supporters, have very specific targets for their open and frank discussions – Jews, immigrants, Muslims, trans people, etc. Odd that they never seem to want to discuss the morality of corporate tax fraud, republicanism, institutional misogyny, etc. And joining them is, of course, Ricky Gervais.

Other comics have criticised the ruling, saying comedians should be allowed to tell whatever jokes they want without fear of prosecution. Saying “Want to gas the Jews?” 23 times may be one of those jokes that loses something in the telling. Either way, the case has thrown together stranger bedfellows than a swinger’s party on The Island Of Dr Moreau.

Fans of offensive comedy worry that the verdict will set a precedent that will rob them of their source of entertainment. They also seem willing to set aside the content of what the comedy is being offensive about, or how, or why. This is the equivalent of drinking to get drunk and not caring how foul or revolting the booze is, so long as it gets you there. If you watch comedy to be shocked, a taser gun is far more efficient and has never made light of a Holocaust.

The problem with this kind of fellowship is that it presumes everyone is playing the same sport. Otherwise-reasonable writers and comedians condemning this law (the true target of their condemnation, surely, rather than the verdict – the court simply enforced that law) are neither useful nor idiots but in a dim light could be mistaken for both.

To follow the sport analogy, they want Dankula to be able to use the same boxing ring as they do. The difference is, they feel he is doing the same kind of sparring as they are, when in fact he is figuratively kicking a cat to death and setting fire to it to make idiots smirk.

Also, the freedom to joke has not been placed under jeopardy here. The lack of freedom to broadcast grossly offensive material, a law that has existed for fifteen years without comedy ceasing to exist, has been enforced. If the 2003 Act is such a threat to free speech, it has been remarkably slow in getting there.

If Ricky Gervais really is a fan of free speech, maybe he should stop blocking Twitter users who criticise him, or retweet posts that do anything other than shower him with praise. And if Count Dankula wants to continue in his career as a shitposter, he needs to accept that posting shit sometimes gets your hands dirty.