‘I am a weapon of massive consumption. It’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function’, wrote top selling artist Lilly Allen. She went on to write, aimed at a range of authority figures, “***k you, ***k you very very much. ‘Cos we hate what you do and we hate your whole crew so please don’t stay in touch”.
Young people across the country are using social networks to organise themselves for the purpose of looting shops. This is not merely ‘criminality’ – although it certainly is that. Something far more profound is going on. These young people have clearly lost confidence that our society can give them a life worth living. They have lost hope. So they have nothing left to lose.
Politicians have had a torrid time, what with expenses and hacking scandals … and not even a holiday. The old accommodations that cobbled together our social contract are being unpicked – the symbiosis between the media and politicians, the politicians culture of paying themselves under the counter, and so on.
But the biggest accommodation was between the markets and the politicians. The onerous responsibilities of the state could be sort-of met if we borrowed money from the markets. This was all fine for as long as we were creditworthy.
But the music has stopped. Our young people have been left standing.
The consequent silence has shattered the delicate, hidden trade-offs that kept our social contract in balance. And modern communications have revealed all these things directly to us on our smartphone.
The truth is that the state can no longer meet its obligations to citizens as established by a post-war settlement built on the idea of a welfare society.
The sooner we recognise this fact, the sooner we can stop blaming bankers, politicians, journalists, policemen and hoodies. We can replace mutual demonisation with a long overdue conversation about what we want from the state, and how much we are prepared to pay for it.
It is time to re-calibrate our social contract. We need to do it in a way that enrols our young people and gives them a fair chance.