After a few ugly incidents soured the press coverage of anti-Conservative protests, George Bolton argues that the new, young left must not discredit itself as a credible movement
“Spitting hatred as yobs ambush Tory conference” read the headline of last Monday’s Metro. The Conservative Party’s decision to hold their conference in Manchester was a piece of political genius. With the introduction of the Trade Union Bill still fresh in people’s minds, Cameron and co. knew very well that their presence in the North would provoke a tirade of violence, ill behaviour and a subsequent field day for the press.
Instead of focusing on the PM’s declaration that he would be prepared to use Britain’s nuclear weapons, to use just one example, the British public are instead feasting their eyes on a crowd of spitting, swearing “yobs.”
With the dawn of Corbynmania and a new age of fashionable socialism upon us, the younger generation, who find themselves at the centre of this political whirlwind, needs to make sure they use this energy positively. With more than 500,000 new members of the Labour Party, the youth of Britain is now more mobilised than any time in my memory. As an 18-year-old, I find myself surrounded by intellectually stimulated, politically engaged youngsters who are freshly inspired by Westminster politics for the first time in their lives.
Although this is promising, there is a possibility that this phase could fizzle out without making any impact, leaving the Conservatives as dominant as they were on May 7th. That said, the 60,000 or more protesters that marched on the Conservative Party Conference showed the nation and the world that the British public, or certainly a sizeable proportion of it, won’t take five more years of austerity without a fight.
The majority of this protest’s media coverage, however, did not focus on the abundance of democratic engagement and youthful politicisation that this day demonstrated. Instead, the unproductive and childish minority of the protestors were given the limelight. Eggs were thrown, and a 40-hour-rave was held in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens. These are the ‘highlights’ that this day of protest will be remembered for, and it is for this reason that the new leftist generation must be more cautious and disciplined if they expect to be taken seriously.
I hope that we will learn from our predecessors, who took to the streets in a furious flurry, habitually chanting “scum” and burning pictures of Thatcher. All these methods do is confirm to middle England that it is the calm and reserved Tories taking on the animalistic, obnoxious and dangerous hard Left. If, instead, 16- to 25 year-olds engaged in more respectful democratic practices to voice their dissent, perhaps the media would find it more difficult to dismiss the voices of thousands of people by painting them all as a few raving loonies.
Of course, there is nothing new about this media tactic. The justified outrage of the hike in tuition fees was quickly extinguished by the media due to the irresponsibility of a small minority of young people during the 2011 student riots. The media littered the coverage with violent, threatening words that frightened Middle England. What’s more, the endless coverage of the aftermath of the protests distracted from the actual issue of the fees itself. We must learn that being young and angry simply isn’t enough if real change is going to happen.
There are, believe it or not, a significant number of young people across the UK that are involved in respectable, rational politics. These are young people that are committed to democratic principles and are prepared to work with the system to achieve their ends, not simply throw eggs at it. Take the Citizens UK First Time Voter Assembly as an example: Organised by young people and attended by Chuka Umunna, Matthew Hancock and Millicent Scott, this event facilitated a productive and serious conversation between a room full of young people and their elected representatives.
There will only be a sustainable renewed Labour movement if the generation leading it is measured, purposeful and versatile. If not, the next generation of Tories will happily wipe the egg of their face and walk straight back into Number 10.