As I mentally shut down last night, here’s what was the most interesting thing about the previous week: Labour Youth seem very comfortable with being well funded. They had good stuff at Reading University Freshers’ Fayre when I nipped down to help for an hour or so.
I’m no fan of poverty porn. You shouldn’t have to play down one’s wealth by being deliberately being shoddy or what have you. It always seems a bit odd to me that celebs have shoppers finding second hand stuff for them. If you’ve got parents who can afford expensive gear for you, well done to them, and I hope you do something amazing with it.
Even so, it seemed a bit out of place at a Freshers’ Fayre. In the middle of a tent where students were largely making do with their home made stand decorations, presumably spending their budgets on more interesting things, the Labour Youth stand was dressed with all the accoutrements of a commercial trade show.
A few things stood out to me at the Fayre. First was how young all the students looked; clearly I am entering the grumpy old man stage of life (although at least I didn’t get offered, as one colleague did, a teacher’s discount on pizza).
Then, it was the comparison of stand contents between Lib Dem and Labour. Our main foodstuff giveaway was home baked goods from a local councillor; theirs were cupcakes with a fantastic looking rose of icing on top – clearly commercially sourced. We had balloons and leaflets; they had trade show banner stands. Our literature was just leaflets; theirs included a slideshow on a top-of-the-line laptop, a MacBook Air.
In other words, there was money on show – things bought rather than produced. It just had a kind of Tory lobbyist feel to it. Bizarre.
Admittedly, I am writing this very post on a MacBook Air. Then again, I bought it in my mid thirties. When I went to uni, I didn’t know anyone my age who could have afforded that kind of gear. I don’t mean a laptop (which weren’t even an option for most professionals back then) but spending a few months’ rent extra on the fancy version of whatever kind of equipment you care to mention. That’s extravagant to me.
(And I went to private school! Although if I’d gone to Oxbridge like the good little boy I was supposed to be, I’m sure I’d have met more than a few kids with a bit of spare cash.)
When all is said and done, this is only symbolism, not substance. You could argue that it’s entirely right to put on a professional front, which presumably was the goal. But it felt very, very odd to me. If instead it had been the Tories who had dressed up their stand like that, I’d have been chatting away to the Labour guys and slagging off the flash-with-the-cash stylings of young conservatives.
As it was, well, I just felt the kind of discomfort I remember back as a kid. I learnt during the Thatcher years to be suspicious of the intentions of people who like “stuff”. There has never been any appeal to the whole succeed-for-the-sake-of-success thing that runs through our education system (or at least in private and “aspirational” schools – there often seems to be an equally depressing “obey for the sake of a quiet life” thing going on everywhere). The Labour Youth stand had a kind of by-the-numbers, route-to-success feel to it.
Symbolism should matter, especially to students. The symbolism of all the pricey options chosen for the Labour Youth stand just seemed off-key. Was it sign up, and people will give you access to expensive gear? That they are the party of high income youth? That they want kids with rich parents to feel comfortable signing up? That teenagers fresh out of school should be thinking about where their career loyalties lie?
Whatever it was, it wasn’t, “We are the party that fights for the people”. Which is what I always thought the deep and admirable purpose of Labour was supposed to be.