Betrayal of a generation

In the aftermath of the 2010 General Election, in which the party stood on an explicit platform to abolish tuition fees and many MPs made the doomed NUS pledge, the party took the catastrophic political decision to reverse track within the coalition to raise fees. Regardless of the individual merits of the tuition fee reforms as a policy, and however much the party went blue in the face shouting “graduate tax” at anyone that would listen, the decision – the betrayal – tainted the party in the eyes of young people and the wider electorate and was an early domino to the inevitable 2015 collapse.

However, the real lasting damage that tuition fees made to the party was not the policy itself or the 2015 election result, but that the party stopped trying to appeal to young people and many young people stopped bothering to even consider the party as a possibility.

Anyone who has been a student in the past 13 years knows the degree to which young people just do not care about the party, it isn’t anger or disgust, it’s indifference. I have spent years sitting on fresher’s stalls in vain and organising anti-Brexit activity through vapid “cross party” groups, because the party fails to hit through with young people. On paper the party should be exactly what young people want, progressive, anti-Brexit, pro-LGBTQ+ rights, pro-drug reform, pro-PR, you could go on endless ways the party aligns with the views of young people – except housing.

Housing is yet another issue that young people, by which I don’t primarily mean students but young professionals going up into their 30s, are massively affected. Decades and decades of failures around housing, be it overall numbers, density in urban areas, house sizes, planning committee nimbyism, lack of renter’s rights – I could go on for hours, literally – have left young people at the mercy of private landlords and with no prospect of ever owning a home of their own.

The issue that the party has, both on a national and a local level, is the same problem as trying to explain that the tuition fee reforms are actually just a graduate tax, it doesn’t matter how much you try explaining to a young person that we want the “right houses in the right places” and whatever waffle the party is peddling to explain away the symbolic dropping of national housing targets, it is a signal and a big red flag to young people that the Liberal Democrats still aren’t for them.

While it’s tempting for the party to continually rely on the quick and easy road to oppose house building because of endless “local reasons” and playing up opposition to the mass house building that this country needs; the party fails to have the conviction or trust in our ability to win over the blue wall and local government without it. We are yet again betraying a generation of young people in failing to deal with the greatest crisis of generational inequality that currently exists or has existed in living memory.

The party has had massive success in local government and in by-elections while still maintaining the 380,000 national house building targets, and in order to secure our future and try to regain a new generation of liberal voters we must not reject the targets – to do so would be a symbolic, emotional message that we are nationally taking on our NIMBY caricature –  and instead we should be bold and creative with solutions to the housing crisis at all levels and be clear in our symbolic resolve to target what we need nationally. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves to be just a coalition of hyper-localists and parliamentary super-councillors.

 

* James Bliss is the Secretary of the South Central Liberal Democrats, the English Young Liberals Policy Officer and an activist in Oxford West and Abingdon.

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23 Comments

  • In politics, as in life, once trust is betrayed it’s virtually impossible to repair.

    “Never glad confident morning again”.

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 14th Sep '23 - 10:14am

    Agree with every word – and cannot comprehend why we want to remove the target – as James says, having, it has not been a barrier to amazing success and local and by-elections. There are issues with the way the target is allocated geographically, but that means we should review the calculation, not scrap the target altogether and be portrayed as having slipped into complete NIMBYism.
    Whilst localist policies may win local elections, we cannot win at national level without motivating young people to vote for us. Betraying their ever decreasing hopes of a stable home to attract NIMBY voters in local council elections not only destroys their futures, but also our own dreams of running anything other than councils.

  • James Fowler 14th Sep '23 - 10:29am

    Agreed, but this goes much deeper than just one Party. There’s been a cross party consensus for long time in favour of protecting the elderly’s (60+) privileges and making younger people (40-) pay for them. It’s morally scandalous when you look at how the older generation treated their own parents when they were in work. Young people have not helped themselves by failing to vote, but nonetheless that oversight has been abused beyond what I hold to be morally acceptable or socially cohesive. It’s time to end the triple lock. It’s time to build more houses. It’s time that pensioners paid NI.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Sep '23 - 10:42am

    “There are issues with the way the target is allocated geographically”

    Indeed. Such as the presence/absence of services (public transport, schools, shops, communit facilities etc.), risk of flooding (insurance issue), local housing needs.

    The target on its own is far too simplistic. If it allows big developers to build mostly executive houses wherever they want, for maximum profit, irrespective of local needs and without the necessary public services – why should anyone be surprised if/when a local community affected rises up in protest about such developments?

  • Of course all the problems faced by our country and its inhabitants is the fault of the greedy pensioners ! Come on, the mess we ALL find ourselves in has been caused by inept politicians from all party’s and from worldwide events beyond an individual’s control, pitching one age group against another is a recipe for continued disharmony in our country. Thank goodness my wife and I have a wonderful relationship with our our children and nine grandchildren who love and support us as we do them!!! I am wondering why I bothered to renew my membership if these are typical thoughts of the party’s membership.

  • James Fowler 14th Sep '23 - 11:29am

    That’s a fair point Barry. At an individual level people are kind and generous. The issue is that collectively, the 65+ age group is conspicuous by:
    a. It’s resolute and consistent support – even now – for the Conservative government of the past 13 years and b. The (evidently grateful) recipient of record state benefits at time of record taxation.

  • @barry It’s always striking to me that when the older generations are faced with the evidence of what they have enabled they react so violently (metaphorically so) to it. The simple fact is intergenerational war has been ongoing quietly for some time.

    The fact that young people are now pointing out that now is not the start of the war, but highlighting the effect it’s already had.

    It’s always worth noting that those politicians that you blame were elected by your cohort.

  • Andrew I am not reacting violently metaphorically or otherwise just tired of the continual blame game, yes the young are finding it tough at the moment, I know, but when was it any different, I am not so old that I have forgotten my own youth and the difficulties and obstacle we faced and James I have never voted for the Tories or Labour come to that and yes I have been grateful for the triple lock pension increases as no doubt other pensioners have also.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Sep '23 - 1:07pm

    Seconding Barry – as another (well over) +65 who has never voted tory or labour – and has no intention of ever doing so.

  • The heyday of housebuilding in the UK was in the inter-war years before the introduction of the Town and Planning Act 1947 and in the post-war years before the impact of the 1961 Land compensation Act that put an end to new towns and made land for council house building too expensive. Hence, the boom is high rise tower blocks.
    The older generation does not have greater income than the younger generation. What is has is housing equity. That equity has been created by financialisation of the housing market.
    We have to ask cui bono – who benefits from this escalation of house prices? Does the homeowner have access to greater wealth. Only if he sells up and moves to the rental market.
    Cui bono? It is the financiers and investors.
    Housing targets that can’t be met will not resolve these issues. Rents will continue to rise as private equity institutional investors buy out small landlords as has happened in the USA.
    We need to introduce wealth taxes in the form of a Land Value tax to disincentivise the use of housing as an Investment class and restrict bank lending for mortgages. The lending for mortgages on existing properties should come from non-banks (like pension funds, insurance and mutual funds) that do not create credit to inflate prices.

  • To support Barry and Noncon….. as a former Vice-Chair of the National League of Young Liberals (1965-66) I’m afraid Andrew’s comment, ” It’s always striking to me that when the older generations are faced with the evidence of what they have enabled they react so violently (metaphorically so) to it”, is very disappointing.

    1. It’s a sweeping generalisation offering no evidence.

    2. I don’t recall seeing Andrew in Trafalgar Square when we, the Young (but now a bit ancient) Liberals were demonstrating against Apartheid and later the Vietnam war……. or – correct me if I am wrong…. the Invasion of Iraq.

    3. Again correct me if I am wrong, but Scotland didn’t vote for “those politicians that you blame” so again, don’t generalise Andrew.

    To be fair to Andrew, I don’t see any prospect of a serious UK Lib Dem recovery so long as the present Leadership has the taint of Coalition connection or until it escapes the shackles of nervousness about espousing radical policies which might offend or frighten the cosy Home Counties and Northern Brexiteers.

    ‘Not quite as nasty as the Tories’ is not much of a slogan to go to the stake for, but if the Lib Dems fail to be a radical party they are nothing.

  • Helen Dudden 14th Sep '23 - 3:08pm

    I don’t support putting young people who use Power Wheelchairs into Care Homes. There are narrow minded thoughts on sex and marriage for Power Wheelchair users.
    I also don’t believe in ghetto type of environment for over 55s.
    This is applied to the thoughts on older people in Power Wheelchairs. We could and will add DNR.

  • Ruth Bright 14th Sep '23 - 5:25pm

    Love this James. Your last sentence should ring in the ears of all of us Lib Dem oldies

  • @Ian Sanderson
    You are correct that the coalition would have fallen if the Liberal Democrats had refused to break their solemn pledge on tuition fees. The Party should have been willing to take that approach should the Tories not back off from their proposals. Sadly, the Party chose to break their solemn pledge and, rightly, were punished at the following election.

  • Thank you Martin Bennett for making the liberal argument against a graduate tax. We should not be supporting a tax that puts people off from developing their education and their potential by going to university.

    With regard to the 380,000 national home building target, on Saturday FCC will consider at least two amendments to F31, the housing motion, which would restore it. Hopefully, Conference can defeat the removal of a national home building target as it did at our autumn conference in 2020.

    James Fowler,

    It is not time to end the triple lock on pensions and it is our pre-manifesto paper (Policy Paper 153 ‘For a Fair Deal’) on page 22. (Also there are still pensioners living in poverty in the UK.) We should instead embrace our policy of increasing working-age benefits to the deep poverty level within the decade. The policy seems to be calling for a single person’s benefit to be increased by £70 a week and for a couple’s by about £98.50.

  • I agree with Tony but would also add that a target is meaningless unless there is some thought given as to how those houses will actually be built. The construction industry is short of around 200,000 workers as it is, without allowing for the extra demand an ambitious target would create.

    (And while modular construction provides a quicker and low-carbon way to do this, the traditional housebuilders won’t consider it and supply chain failures have been particularly notable in the sector)

  • Peter Martin 16th Sep '23 - 10:43am

    There’s always going to be pressure to limit new housing developments. People do like their open fields a countryside.

    So why not make a start by ensuring the houses we do have are utilised as efficiently as possible? There are houses that have fallen into a state of disrepair as well as those which are deliberately kept empty for investment and other reasons.

    The other problem is that most of the better paid jobs are located in the SE of England where housing is at its most expensive. We can’t move the housing but we can move the jobs!

    https://www.actiononemptyhomes.org/

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Sep '23 - 11:34am

    “And while modular construction provides a quicker and low-carbon way to do this, the traditional housebuilders won’t consider it ”
    Quite. Don’t want to change their business model!!

    Perhaps organisations such as https://www.zedpods.com might be encouraged….

  • Peter Hirst 9th Oct '23 - 4:27pm

    Targets are only inspirational if they are credible. However in our present politics it’s as much what you say as what you do that wins media coverage. To have targets in our manifesto that are not only credible to the electorate and that we as a Party are fully committed to will only act as a disincentive to our future growth.

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