Materialism, Ambition, and the War on Terror: How do the children who came to age throughout the decade of Blair's reign as Prime Minister fare?
Yesterday’s youth were never quite as dreadful as today’s – every generation suffers from that ‘When-I-Was-a-Boy’ Syndrome! But given all the shootings, stabbings, classroom chaos, intergenerational disrespect and the cold confidence seen amongst so many young people now, one genuinely wonders if this ‘looking back’ is more than just simple nostalgia. Parents have been blamed. The media has been blamed. The finger of damnation has even been pointed at teachers. Perhaps it’s now time to turn and face the government whose policies laid the foundations of the time in which our youth grew up: will the Right Honourable Mr. Blair please take the stand?!
Despite major preoccupations such as global-warming, the Iraq conflict and the “War on Terror,” our children had a strong presence throughout Blair’s 10 years in power. It is his government that can be credited with consolidating the concept of the Nanny State, where interventions in few aspects of civil life have been untouched: if you should smack your children, what you should feed your children, the consequences you will face for your children’s misdemeanours. The range of family issues that found themselves in the legislative arena during his time is endless. Was it not his own wife, Cherie Booth QC, who so eloquently raised the issue of the ‘work-life balance’ all those years ago? So let’s see what this man, so passionate about family life and concerns, conjured up. How have the children who came of age (or those on the verge of doing so) under his premiership fared?
Though his government did not introduce the statutory testing of children in primary schools, it certainly reinforced them as a necessity. And a generation on, what’s the verdict? A recent survey into primary education, carried out by Cambridge University, highlights the undue pressure that SATs tests are placing on our 7 and 11 year olds. It points out that children are ‘stressed’ and drawn into a ‘pervasive anxiety’ about their world, as their teachers are pressurized into ‘distorting’ the National Curriculum in their efforts to meet targets.
This report, entitled ‘Community Soundings,’ does not limit itself to an academic assessment either. Alluding to the report’s more social dimensions of our children’s well-being, The Independent says this: “Those interviewed expressed worries about the consequences of family breakdown, the decline of intergenerational respect and social cohesion, and the growth of materialism and the ‘cult of celebrity.’” Not only is this report considered the most comprehensive in 40 years, but it apparently surveyed the opinions of people from a very wide range of backgrounds, giving it more credibility. And The Independent goes on to present the consensus that emerged from this wide variation, as very striking indeed. So there we have an evaluation of the youngest of Mr. Blair’s children.
And what a bloody year 2007 has been for ‘his children’; gun and knife crime amongst our youth seems to have soared! Just ask people who are 40 and over now, how many stories can they tell of a school friend’s funeral or of a peer who died violently before they turned 20 years old? Then do your own survey of those 35 and under. Then, compare the figures. Whether there’s ever been a time when so many ordinary people know someone, or someone who knows someone who’s been shot or stabbed to death, may be questionable, but the nation is counting anyway.
Under a headline that read ‘Why are our kids killing each other?’, The Daily Mirror published 51 young faces, beautiful, but now no more, dead faces of 2007’s murder victims. But 16-year-old Jonathan Matondo was killed just three days after it was printed, bringing the real figure to 52. If there are no more of these this year, that will still mean one mindless youth killing every single week! They are all dead because of a gun or a knife. They were all under 20 years old. Is there a parent of a teenage child who does not worry that they’ll recognize their own child’s face in some future montage? Does Mr. Blair harbour the same fears about his own children? Is this what he anticipated for the children of the constituents that brought him to power in 1997?
Despite this sense of widespread stress and bloodshed, there is also much that represents opportunity, ambition and a mercenary determination to succeed. Whatever the press might report about falling educational standards, who has ever known a time when the grading A* was necessary because so many children were getting As? Remember when As at A Level was only for the few elite, at the end of the 80s and early 90s? Now, it’s different. Some blame the slackening of standards, others are cynical enough to imply cheating! And university degrees are now two-a-penny, had by every man and his dog - there’s so many ways of obtaining one, so what’s the big deal? We live in an age where so much has cheapened: this is sadly one of the disadvantages of heightening availability.
Also in support of our widening meritocracy, Britain now has the greatest ever number of homeowners, climbing higher up the housing ladder, or those trying desperately to get on it; we’ve never seen so many gleaming cars congesting our roads; state of the art gadgets are brandished by the youngest members of our society; as parents are drip-fed by the media, they dress their babies in designer labels, attempting down-scaled imitations of their celebrity idols. They seem trapped in an abyss of materialism and celebrity culture. Perhaps it is this diet of consumerism, avarice and aggressive resolve that has fed and nourished Blair’s generation, and produced that cold confidence that we see in so many of our young people today. They seek cultural egalitarianism; they want what everyone else has, and they are fiercely determined to get it!
You see, it was Blair’s Nanny State mentality that served so well in sending messages to our children that they are ‘big enough’ for things that once belonged solely in a more senior domain - just a few of these being statutory testing, mobile phones and most importantly, CHOICE! The choice to question their parents’ decisions, and the choice to turn to an agency that would help them over-ride their parents’ decisions, are both fundamentally crucial. Need we wonder any longer what it is that has made our children so very precocious? Look carefully and you will also see that this state of affairs is a fine recipe for intergenerational conflict.
Our children are alive, and true to their nature, they are like sponges, taking in everything they see around them. And their sources are many and their over-indulgence allowed: there’s the T.V, the internet and explicit printed publications, all targeting our young. The culture of consumerism that Mr. Blair so loved and nurtured created so many symbols that mean success, in some shape or form. And it is this same culture of consumerism that has made ‘his children’ so hungry and prepared to live lives that are fast, high-risk and indifferent to whether they live as long as just 40 years old; 35’s old anyway! All the different visions of wealth that they see inform our youth that there is more than one road to success. So even the educationally disenchanted have hope. Let’s remember all those policies that have empowered them, so now, they will go as far as murder to enhance their street-cred or to acquire wealth, because respect, just in their circles, is real. It is also another form of success!
How proud Mr. Blair must be when he looks and sees his very own reflection! After 18 years of the Conservative’s ‘reign,’ it was Mr. Blair and his cohort that was mercenary enough to transform the Labour Party and bring them to victory. This was a transformation beyond recognition for many traditional Labour supporters, and led to him being dubbed ‘Tory Blair.’ Did he care? No, not if it meant power. He was quite prepared to carry on Mrs. Thatcher’s ideology of ‘rolling back the frontiers of the State.’ He did much to advance the cause of the individual, promoting the values of the entrepreneur and schemes for homeownership, for example. The security of service industry jobs continued to lose its sheen, and consumerism glowed brighter and brighter. And Blair was glad!
Just like the opportunists that can read the market and gain from the benefits of his consumerist culture, in 1997, Blair knew that everyone had had enough of the Conservatives and their domineering, sleaze-ridden ways. And he was clever enough to understand Tory values and re-brand the Labour Party as something similar enough to succeed. He made his ideology so palatable that old-style socialism actually began to taste bad! And he had had a head start; word has it that when he was just 11 years old and a pupil at Durham Choristers, he represented the Conservative Party in a mock election. But why the surprise? His own father, once a Communist, later converted to the Conservative Party!
I hear your private wonderings – was he a charlatan? That’s another issue, but like our youth seem to get away with their bold crimes, Blair’s certainly what ‘the lads’ would call ‘slippery.’ Known to some as a ‘Twister of Truth,’ he was a master at skating around the real issue, be it through phrases like ‘it’s time to move on…’ or his pregnant stutterings. He even slipped through the claws of the police on the matter of selling seats in the House of Lords. His skill at being (or not being) in the right place at the right time stayed with him until the very end of his premiership: he’d barely left Downing Street when Northern Rock fell into crisis and precipitated Britain’s current credit crunch. The country was in a state of panic, but it wasn’t Blair’s problem anymore. Where was he? Off being a Peace-Envoy to the Middle East, despite sending British Troops to the war in Iraq – jammy devil!
Tony Blair holidayed at the homes of celebrity friends during his time in office, fostering the same spirit of cultural egalitarianism that we see our children pining for. At just 43, he was Britain’s youngest Prime Minister – another eye-opening possibility for our youth. Like the children of his generation, he showed little time for the concept of principle; his respect was for cleverness and ambition. This was his essence, and his Government’s policies reflected that. The difficulty of rising to be more than a mere victim of one’s time is acknowledged throughout history, so perhaps it is that our ferociously ambitious young are Mr. Blair’s children indeed.
1st November 2007