Opinion | Wednesday, 22nd November 2017
Budget 2017: Has the Chancellor lost an opportunity to have a budget for youth?
Professor Gary Pollock analyses housing and railcard announcements, while Dr David James despairs at Philip Hammond's jokes
by Professor Gary Pollock, Head of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University
Professor Pollock is an expert in young people's political and civic engagement, employment trajectories and social mobility.
Following a surge in support from students for the policies of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, debates over increasing university tuition fees to more than £9,000 per year and increasing insecurity of young workers in the gig economy one might have expected a budget with more to offer young people.
This is not to suggest that the primary purpose of the budget is, or ought to be, to gain electoral support, but any such consequence is not going to go unnoticed.
Today’s budget, however, had little to offer the youth of today. Where was the recognition that many young people are concerned over tuition fees and debt? Where were the measures to secure a better deal for young workers increasingly exposed to zero hours contracts?
True, policies aimed at younger people were unveiled. The increase in the living wage from £7.50 to £7.83, the extension of railcard eligibility, and the abolition of stamp duty for first time buyers up to £300,000 are all nudging in the same direction. They will only, however, benefit those over the age of 25 (or affluent young house buyers under 25), so the question is: has the Chancellor done enough to win over the upcoming generation?
For years the Conservative party have arguably benefited from an ageing population, older people, it seems, are more likely to be on the political right than their youthful counterparts. Or has this been a cohort effect and less to do with a tendency for people to shift rightwards as they get older?
Perhaps the political socialisation of the current baby boomers who are moving into retirement, or are already there, was such that they always had a stronger pre-disposition to be on the right? Here we need to balance the memories of Churchill and the glory of the allied victory in WW2 with the pride in the (largely Labour driven) post-war housing boom, educational reform and, of course, the ever-present electoral theme: the NHS.
The Chancellor faces acute problems in relation to his own career trajectory, as a result of political tension within his own party. This was always going to make it hard to roll out a ‘budget for youth’. Nonetheless this budget might be seen as a lost opportunity to capture the interest of young people and attract them towards his policies and his party.
Maybe it is truer to suggest that there are political generations which are relatively fixed to the period when young people develop an awareness of the effects of government policies, through the opportunities which open up (or not) before them, as well as the need to contribute to them via taxation.
If this is the case then maybe the Conservatives have something to worry about. A generation who perceive that they have been passed over might not easily forget that the debt that they have accrued in order to get educated has actually led to employment insecurity, despite holding good qualifications.
The focus on housing aims to facilitate younger people buying their first house by reducing the cost and increasing availability. Has the Chancellor focussed on the right age group and if so, has he offered enough to draw them closer?
The Chancellor faces acute problems in relation to his own career trajectory, as a result of political tension within his own party. This was always going to make it hard to roll out a ‘budget for youth’. Nonetheless this budget might be seen as a lost opportunity to capture the interest of young people and attract them towards his policies and his party. If he has got it wrong then he risks driving a generation in the direction of alternatives.
The Chancellor was handed a box of Strepsils by the Prime Minister during his speech, in a pre-planned routine harking back to Theresa May's coughing fit during her Conservative party conference address.
Dr David James, Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies and an expert in British comedy, gives his thoughts on why politicians insist for trying for laughs.
I wonder why politicians try to get a joke or two into major speeches.
I'm sure their media advisers will be telling them that getting a laugh will make them look more human or more approachable which, for your average career politician, is a desirable (if unlikely) objective.
So why do these same advisers not realise that these attempts at jokes almost always fall flat? Take the Chancellor's budget speech on Wednesday where Theresa May handed Hammond a throat lozenge in what was obviously a pre-arranged attempt at comedy. It was hardly Wildean wit; it wasn't even Morecambe and Wise.
The politician that can pull off a witty comment or aphorism is a rare beast indeed. I'm reminded of Harold Wilson breaking off mid-speech to announce the half-time football scores, and he even managed to acquit himself reasonably well in the company of the aforementioned Morecambe and Wise on their 1978 Christmas show.
Comics work for years to hone their craft because comedy is hard, as any open mic night or Chancellor's speech will show.