Generation Y – are they really a jilted generation, or do they have absolutely no reason to be complaining about their lot? This was the question posed at Tuesday night’s Spectator debate, with the motion: ‘Stop whining young people, you’ve never had it so good’, and chaired by Toby Young. It all kicked off with an introduction from Alan Warner, the investment director at Duncan Lawrie, who expressed his gratitude to Tony Blair for putting Islington – where Warner owned his first London home – on the map. It’s not just this generation who feels hard done by when it comes to property, he said. Every generation feels like it has missed out on that front.
First on the podium was Jeremy Warner of The Telegraph, speaking for the motion, who joked that Alan Warner had already made his argument for him. The opposition, consisting of Ed Howker, Katie Morley and David Lammy, certainly didn’t look deprived – quite the opposite. James Delingpole, on the other hand (who was speaking for the motion), despite being a fine figure of a man, looked ‘somewhat down at heel’, said Warner. But back to the serious business. It’s true that the young have been badly hit by the recession, he said, but these are perennial features of the economy. Generation Y might be affected by an ageing society, and the demographics of the country. But looked at as a whole, this is the probably most privileged generation ever. If they think there’s a problem, they ought to get out and do something about it.
Next up, speaking against the motion, was Katie Morley, a writer at Investors Chronicle. Her argument centred around the fact that education, employment, housing and pensions are the four pillars of a secure financial community, but that these are all crumbling. Being financially secure is now a luxury that only exceptional high earners, or those with rich parents, can expect. Something, she said, has gone seriously wrong.
James Delingpole, however, disagreed. Everything is going right for Generation Y, not wrong. When he was young, he wasted an enormous amount of time thinking about – and trying to get – sex. These days, all one needs is an app, and your sexual urges can be catered for. If you want drugs, all you have to do is log on to the Silk Road. There might not be enough Queen Anne rectories around for everyone, that’s true. But technology has made Generation Y’s lives pretty fantastic in relation to those of the previous generation. Granted, there are problems for them, such as the housing market, and the government’s ‘crap’ QE policy. But the difference is that young people now have ‘the power to deal with all this shit’. So get out there and sort things out, was his message.
That, said David Lammy, was fun. But he wasn’t convinced that young people are whinging about their lot. On the contrary, the young people that he met in his constituency were remarkable accepting of their lot, and willing to just get on with things. The ones who complained the most were the baby boomers, who were caused mayhem in 1968, and Generation X, who rioted in their droves. Even the Croydon riots in 2011 included many adults, rather than Generation Y members.
‘I am part of the fortunate generation that includes those pantheon names Cameron, Miliband and Clegg’, he said, who have had free education, little unemployment, and good pension pots. For Generation Y, the prospect is very different. The buzzword here ought to be ‘security’, and this is exactly what that Generation Y don’t have. There is very little promise of a ‘great’ in Great Britain for the next generation. But they aren’t whinging. They are a make do and mend generation, who are quietly getting on with their lives.
Paul Flatters was next to speak for the motion, and he hadn’t been convinced by Katie Morley’s argument. Her speech had reminded him of the Monty Python sketch ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’. By the time they are in their 50s, Generation Y will almost certainly be richer than the current one, and crime levels as a whole are ridiculously low. Technology, as well, has opened up so many opportunities for young people. But as Lammy had said earlier, to claim that they whinge is far from true. It’s the older people who are whinging on their behalf, claimed Flatters.
The final speaker against the motion was Ed Howker, who said that Jeremy Warner’s description of him as a ‘tanned, somewhat handsome man’ was incorrect (though flattering) – and nor was most of what the other side had to say. It must be hard for parents to see their children achieving multiple degrees, and then return home to them unable to find a job or afford their own home. For too long, the government has ignored the needs of young people, and it’s time to fix that. Young people are being kicked when they’re down, and all the figures look very bad for them right now. Problems including housing, a skills shortage, and unemployment are ones that are going to continue to affect the next generation unless we address them now, said Howker. Young people ought to continue – or at least begin – whinging!
At the beginning of the debate, 29 people had voted for the motion, 44 against, and 24 were undecided. But after hearing the speeches, this had changed to 41 for, 55 against, and 10 undecided. More people might have been swung in favour of the motion, but the majority were still of the opinion that Generation Whine are, in fact, right to be whining.