Steve Ignorant of the former punk band “Crass” is my hero of the week because when he was asked on BBC Radio 4 why he had been invited to attend an academic conference, he replied, “‘Cause I’m very clever” which genially exposed one of the underlying assumptions of the interviewer. He also spoke well of how punk had rescued him from apathy and frustration when he was a young man, and given him a genuine opportunity to express himself.
Those who remember Crass will agree that they were good at expressing their anarcho-pacifist views in the most aggressive words and music; that they truly were not in the business for fame or money; and that they were generous towards the causes in which they believed. Steve’s own generosity towards his local lifeboat team led to him becoming part of the team, after they’d showed him “it was important by chucking him into the water and pulling him back on board.” He sounded like an honest, humorous and intelligent man.
He reminded me that young people aged 15- 25 in Britain now are even more likely than his generation to feel disregarded, blocked, patronised and betrayed by the people who hold power and wealth. And that they do not have any significant cultural/ political movement like punk to give credibility to their feelings. Of course a minority of kids do very well, the lucky ones whose families have the resources to help them towards decent education and fruitful work, although even some of them find that the debts they accumulate through education leave them struggling to pay for their housing and still looking for parental support in their 30’s and 40’s.
But many others exist at best on minimum wage employment or exploitative contracts in which they are treated as self-employed, without sick pay or pension. At worst they exist on benefits which are deliberately calculated to be insufficient for survival. In a world where they are continually told of unprecedented opportunities for all, they find themselves looking from a restricted present towards an impoverished future. All of this is the fault of older generations, especially those now aged 55-75 who benefited from the post war socialist settlement in Britain but failed to protect it for their children and grandchildren in the face the ignorant capitalist prejudice known as Thatcherism. My daughter has had less support from the state than I had; and if I had grandchildren or great grandchildren they would have considerably less than her, in a society whose enabling social institutions have been laid waste by neglect.
I can understand young Muslim people opting for jihad less out of radical conviction than out of despair at the bland destruction of their generation’s hopes in Britain and hope that there might be something worth living and dying for. I think Daesh well- understands their condition and might easily turn their propaganda towards youthful non-Muslims as well.
That Hollywood lovie, Michael Caine, popped into Britain last week to advocate the return of National Service, although he was quick to say they shouldn’t be sent off to fight anywhere. It would knock the nonsense out of our young people, stiffen their sinews, teach them how to die on the Brecon Beacons, rather than wondering how they can make their Asda wage last till the end of the week. The reason this solution is so popular is that that it is cheaper than actually creating good educational and working opportunities for our young people; and the reason it hasn’t ever happened is that although cheaper it would still cost something, and might involve – God help us- raising taxes.
Jesus of Nazareth attracted young men and women to the radicalism of his cause by confronting the comfy complacencies of his nation’s establishment with the promise of a kingdom that gave dignity to the excluded and the disregarded. There are a few of his churches trying to do the same today but not many. I’m grateful to Steve Ignorant for reminding me of a raucous movement that made young people aware of their own gifts; and of its relevance to politics and faith today.