Adulation and glee, as a surge in the youthful Labour vote wins Canterbury and other university-graced seats. The Corbyn cult has certainly gained momentum among the financially challenged younger generation, for the crusty Marxist promises of change from the debt-ridden drudgery of Tory Britain. This dalliance with socialist ideology could be viewed as a swing of the political pendulum, but it’s not simply a return of Old Labour.
The Labour revival is driven not by the working class but by the legions of students and graduates of more privileged backgrounds. Their leftist attitude is nurtured by peer groups at university or on social media, but is also a product of earlier upbringing. For this is the coming of age of Generation N.
The middle class raised in the new dawn of Tony Blair were at the vanguard of the great childcare experiment. Both mother and father, in their professional spheres, continued working while their 1.8 children were dispatched to nursery. Long days – the working hours of the parent plus travelling time – were endured by Jack and Chloe in the care of nursery assistants, whose batch of kids tried to make sense of an impersonal world.
Ye shall reap what ye sow. Famous psychoanalyst John Bowlby, if he returned today, would wonder why his warnings went unheeded. Treating emotionally disturbed children at the Tavistock Clinic, Bowlby observed a clear correlation between behavioural problems and maternal deprivation. His book Child Care and the Growth of Love, originally a report for the World Health Organisation in 1951, is a classic text of child psychology, and a theoretical underpinning for The Conservative Woman.
Research by Bowlby and contemporaries showed that children raised in nurseries fared worse in emotional development than those raised in impoverished homes. In Attachment and Loss, his three-part magnum opus completed over two decades, Bowlby presented his attachment theory. Healthy emotional development depends on an intimate bond with a maternal figure. Babies develop one of three attachment styles: secure, anxious or avoidant. The first enjoys intimacy, the second fears rejection, and the third acts indifferently; these patterns continue into adulthood. Lasting damage might be caused by placing children (particularly infants) away from their mothers for long periods of time.
From the evacuees of the London Blitz emerged the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the 1950s. Today, the highly educated Generation N can be typified not as aggressive but as needy, narcissistic, and certain in their moral rectitude. These virtue-signallers declare themselves as the standard-bearers of tolerance and diversity, while disparaging half of their compatriots as bigots, if not ‘Tory scum’. They emote on social media, which serves as an echo chamber of like minds and a powerful regulator of correct opinion.
Meanwhile, a dramatic increase in mental health problems is reported in adolescence. The internet is blamed for any adverse social trend in recent years. But ‘battery hen’ nurseries could be a more potent factor in the emotional vulnerability of younger people, while also explaining their extremely skewed political outlook.
Political parties compete in their pledges to fund childcare for working women. Critics of nurseries such as Steve Biddulph and Oliver James draw ire from feminists and Woman’s Hour, as the ideology of equality in the workplace trumps the nurture of children. Many mothers are forced to work by economic reality, with the escalating cost of housing partly resulting from the rise in double-salaried buyers. Extended family support is lacking as young people settle far from their home town. Contributing further to the decline in maternal contact is family breakdown and fatherless upbringing. Bills must be paid, and so the little one is carted off to Bumble Bees.
Politicians can ignore Bowlby, because they don’t do evidence-based policy, unless it fits their agenda. Conservative ministers run scared of accusations of sending women back to the kitchen. Instead, nurseries and after-school clubs are steadily extending their hours, and like adding lanes to the M25, supply creates demand. Free childcare for every hour under the sun is shoring up problems, and we are beginning to see the outcome.
Abandoned at a tender age, the child learns that if real parents are inaccessible, security must come from others. Digital devices soon become a crutch. By puberty a whole social world is lived in cyberspace; meanwhile family relationships, so important in the difficult phase of adolescence, are weakened. Attachment deficits are compounded by a rootless social media culture, which derides traditional values of family and faith. Teenagers have always sought to flee the nest, but now they can do so virtually without physically leaving home.
The State provided for them from the earliest years of childhood, but then it charges them £9,000 per year for going to university. The Facebook and Twitter discourse clearly dichotomises Labour as caring and the Tories as mean. Just as it issues wads of childcare vouchers, shouldn’t the government make all education free? For Generation N, the State is idealised as the great benevolent provider. A sense of entitlement is promoted on social media, and student fees make the current Conservative party as callous as Thatcher.
This is the context in which the Pied Piper of Islington prospers. As we have seen, the young are an electoral force that cannot be ignored. Conservative politicians must reach out to engage, and offer them something worth voting for. But erroneous ideas should be challenged (they don’t do debate in universities, so this battle must be fought online). As Clare Foges wrote in The Times, ‘let’s stop treating the young as political sages’. Hopelessly naïve slogans should be taken apart. ‘Reclaim the future’ won’t run the NHS; ‘hope not fear’ won’t stop terrorism. The emotionally-appealing socialist Utopia should not be given free rein on the internet. Counterargument is urgently needed against a mass movement that threatens to take us back to the tried-and-tested failures of socialism.
Hopefully, a successive upcoming generation will reject the sanctimony and safe spaces of the current graduate class. Social conservatives must play an active role, by focusing on the family and challenging the relentless institutionalisation of childcare. John Bowlby would surely approve.
All that may be true, but it is undeniable that the patriarchal society so admired by the reactionaries and elitists was extremely oppressive of women. There is no return to that Ozzy and Harriett image, if for no other reason than that it never existed.
We certainly do need to find a new social model, but harking back to the myths of the past won’t help.