You don’t intend to read over the shoulder of the person next to you on the tube, do you, but it’s unavoidable. The well-dressed young woman on the Northern Line on Wednesday was scratching away in a very expensive notebook. The novel in my hands turned to dust, and I swivelled my eyes at her writing.
Top of the page: “Objective: financial security.” Then a new line: “Need: £20,000 to be debt free.”
I didn’t read any more. The thought of twenty grand’s worth of (I’d guess) credit card and student loan debt makes me feel sick, even experienced second-hand. And then, forgive me, I thought: why would you buy a Moleskine notebook in order to write letters to yourself about how big your debt mountain has become?
We know the answer to that, because the Guardian has columns about it regularly. Life is so shit for young people, goes the dogma, that of course they spend three quid on boiled milk (they call it “coffee”, but its infantilising milkiness doesn’t require a psychology degree to deconstruct), or 20 quid on a “historical” brand of notebook.
If you survive by surfing the gig economy, writing your blog and tweeting your podcast, in-between cycling up Barnet Hill to deliveroo a pizza to the smug marrieds-with-mortgages at the top of it; if the concept of owning a home feels as realistic as holidaying on Mars; if the “financial security” you seek involves paying off the student loan you took out to pay for a course that qualifies you for precisely nothing, let alone a job with enough salary to make good that debt: then of course you require small punctuations of pleasure. Like, ooh I don’t know, spending the weekend at “boss” Glasto, shouting fuck the Tories along with your new best friend, the fat controller of Channel 4 News.
I don’t entirely mock; there’s something in it. Life isn’t easy for young people and they didn’t invent the wretched university con-machine that’s left them pointlessly indebted; they didn’t prevent sufficient house-building in the South East of England and they most certainly didn’t cause the financial crash which has left all of our wages so iridescently stagnant.
What terrifies me is the solutions they seek. Just because the Calvinism I grew up with is spiritually void and deeply unfashionable doesn’t make its nostrums less relevant. Neither a borrower nor a lender be isn’t a good recipe for capitalism but it’s a lot healthier than fuck the Tories, singing hymns to Corbyn, and voting wholesale for the demented and violent delusions of one such as John McDonnell.
My tribe, the Conservatives, are getting plenty of advice on how to divert the demographic car crash coming the centre-right’s way (build more houses, is my own dreary contribution). But my greatest fear is that we’ve passed the point of reason, indeed have entered a new age of unreason, not seen on these shores since the death of Diana.
That means that the standard magic, the Tory incantations about boosting economic growth, about how capitalism has made the world better and safer and healthier and happier: they won’t work any more. There is no youthful constituency to be made excited at the thought of markets because they’ve been failed by them.
It’s an endgame now, I think in my gloomiest moments, imagining the pension I’ve spent a lifetime’s salary building up being destroyed overnight by the inevitable Labour government. Corbyn’s regime would make his 1970s Labour predecessors seem like government from the golden age.
“Managed decline” was the 1970s mantra. When Corbyn gets his hands on the tax-and-spend levers we will have mismanaged decline. And his subsequent and inexorable fall, while dramatically satisfying, won’t restore your pension fund.
We need new magic, if this defeatism isn’t to take hold. No more Conservatives-as-party-of-big-
And while it’s too late to help that young woman on the tube, switch off the mindless expansion of the universities. Imagine the election outcome if millions of young people had not squandered future earnings for useless (job-market-wise) degrees, and had instead gone straight into work, and earning, and taxation.
I felt sorry for the woman on the tube, at least as sorry as I’m fearful for my own future well-being should Corbyn come to power. My own notebook also has “Objective: financial security” written at its head. If the rest of the page isn’t to remain blank, we need a Conservative Party with some fire in its belly, able to counteract Corbyn’s terrifying, if exhilarating, recipe for economic ruin. Hint: banging on about Europe for five years isn’t going to cut it.