Die Young Work Long
This week it was announced that Boris Johnson will pull British officials and ministers out of most EU decision-making meetings from September 1 as the government gears up for the Brexit deadline.
The sense of withdrawal from the world is palpable but it’s part of a wider new brutal political landscape emerging this week, and as in the independence campaign and the Brexit referendum age more than social class is a key determining factor.
In a policy paper called Ageing Confidently, produced this week by a think-tank called the Centre for Social Justice, they made the suggestion was that there should be an increase in the state pension age to 70 by 2028, and to 75 by 2035. This would not be a case of live forever, but work forever.
The CSJ’s chairman, Iain Duncan Smith, spoke positively about the Ageing Confidently report. He spoke of “removing barriers for older people to working longer”
“Removing barriers” is a well-worn phrase heard often about the prospects for a Britain “unleashed” post-Brexit.
Just a few years ago there was talk of working less, a four-day week, with the prospect of technology and the need for reducing carbon intense activities meaning we should work less but less and “be” more.
This utopian ideal (which is actually a pressing necessity) has been superseded in Johnson’s Britain, where we will work forever. The ubiquity of the “smart phone” means the blurring of lines between work and ‘leisure’ have been eroded so that the ‘ping’ of the Whassap group, the notifications and the emails start early and go on late in the evening. In this creeping techno-dystopia we end up being “on” all the time. Not only will we work till 75 we will be working all the time.
In some creepy mirroring, this week also saw the revelations that Britain’s stretched army is increasingly relying on 16- and 17-year-olds to fill its ranks, with young people accounting for nearly 30% of those enlisted last year, the highest proportion since the start of the decade.
A report from Child Rights International Network showed recruits are also more likely to come from poorer backgrounds, such as on the edges of cities in the north of England.
Charlotte Cooper, campaigns coordinator with CRIN, said: “The army is leaning on teenagers from the most deprived backgrounds to fix its recruitment crisis, using them to fill the riskiest roles because it can’t persuade enough adults to enlist.”
They used to be called cannon-fodder.
Britain is the only Nato alliance member to allow direct enlistment into the army at the age of 16, a longstanding but controversial practice that has been repeatedly defended as a vital source of recruitment. Following an outcry over the deployment of 17-year-olds to the Gulf War in 1991, and to Kosovo in 1999, the armed forces amended its rules stopping soldiers under 18 from being sent on operations where there was a possibility of fighting. Despite this, at least 20 soldiers aged 17 are known to have served in Afghanistan and Iraq due to errors by the MoD.
According to ForcesWatch report, the armed forces recorded 1783 visits to 377 Scottish education institutions. 1455 visits were to 303 Scottish state secondary schools, of which 42% were made by the Army, 31% by the Navy and 27% by the RAF during the academic years of 2010-11 and 2011-12. This equates to an average of two visits per year for every state secondary school in Scotland.
The UK remains the only country in Europe to recruit 16-year-olds into its armed forces. This is despite recommendations from the United Nations committee on the rights of the child and the parliamentary joint committee that the minimum age for recruitment be raised to 18.
Newspapers reported that GCSE results day, which fell this week, is often the target for recruiters. Recruitment offices stay open until 7pm and there’s heavy investment in social media targetting.
To say this is cynical doesn’t really do it justice, and there’s a irony about the Clown PM larking around Berlin and Paris and his infantilist project acting to divert very young men into the armed forces.
The gap between the vision presented to voters in 2014 and the reality of Britain today is a chasm.
Way back then Britain was presented as cohesive, outward-looking and progressive.
Irony piles on irony as resurgent Anglo-nationalism turns in on itself, Alister Jack, our most reclusive and anonymous Secretary of State snarls in The Times that: “By strengthening the union, by showing the many advantages of belonging to the UK, we will also lift the second cloud of uncertainty facing Scotland, the First Minister’s threat of a second independence referendum. That is a brighter vision than narrow, angry nationalism can offer. And it is why I am certain we can, and will, make a winning case for the union in the months and years ahead.”
Jack is an interesting figure, seamlessly rising from – and into – complete anonymity – he is the by-product of the Conservatives abandoning new-form political campaigning of the kind which a Michael Forsyth might have indulged in, or even that which David Mundell guddled about in with unique incompetence. Instead this Glenalmond boy is a retreat into patrician leadership, a point of connection into the landed world of Scotland in Union and the Old Money of Old Toryism. For all the radicalism and zeal of the Britannia Unleashed Cabinet it is the old networks that are being pressed into action in defense of the Union and the status quo.
Jack is manning Dumfries and the Borderlands with his ten-hire firm and his landed cronies.
This question of leadership, leadership styles and inter-generational betrayal isn’t going away anywhere as Jair Bolsonaro and Greta Thunberg testify. The converging political and ecological crisis we face demand new forms of leadership (‘Be Like Water’), new understandings of economy and radical action to help save us from existential threat. Instead we have an elite doubling-down into isolationism, demagoguery and ecological carnage.
In Britain this means “removing barriers” to joining the army at sixteen and working until your 75. Die young work long.