Magazine article The Spectator

Talking about Their generation:Britain's Golden Youth

Magazine article The Spectator

Talking about Their generation:Britain's Golden Youth

Article excerpt

By the time we had been interviewing for three solid hours I was like a limp dishrag. I was wrung out with the hopefulness of it all. It was the talent, the energy, the sheer brilliance of these young people, all of them beaming 'Pick me, pick me' into my befuddled skull. We were only trying to hire a new researcher, and it was as though we were auditioning the next prime minister. They could write.

They could talk. They could do anything.

They had Grade 8 piccolo/flute and Grade 8 viola and awards for the top GCSE marks in the entire country.

Their A-level results cascaded down the page like a suicidal scream. They were magazine editors, union presidents, champion mooters, and they had blues for everything from rugby to lacrosse. They had prestigious New York awards for their film-making; they had been semi-finalists in University Challenge 2004-05. They had already published important articles in the Guardian and served internships throughout the FTSE-100. They had fluent French and confident German and unblemished driving licences and they had managed to secure the top firsts in disciplines from English to Engineering to History while playing squash to county standard.

As they prattled happily away, I sank lower in my armchair; and I reflected, not for the first time, on the amazing thing about the younger generation. It is not just that they are gifted. They just seem so balanced, so well-adjusted, so full of emotional tranquillity, when by rights they should be full of the opposite. These are Maggie's children. They were born in the 1980s, and according to the think-tanks they should be seething with neuroses and resentment.

Think of the burdens they face: student debts averaging £13,000; risible pensions; a housing market as forbidding as the north face of the Eiger; the prospect of coughing up till kingdom come for Gordon Brown's PFI schemes; and the appalling task of paying for us 1960s baby boomers in our senility. According to a fascinating new pamphlet from Policy Exchange, '2056:

What Future for Maggie's Children?', they are the most put-upon generation since the war; and yet they somehow radiate -- how can I describe it? -- a deep inner pleasantness. Does anyone know what I mean?

Even allowing for the exaggerations of the CV-packer, they seem to do good works on a scale unimaginable by my generation. They have manned suicide helplines and been out on cancer pilgrimages and fought against rabies in South Africa. They have been Oxfam festival stewards and worked with underprivileged and vulnerable children aged 11-16 in Streatham and Brixton, and almost every one of them has done something unheardof in my day: they have gone to the poorer parts of our cities and evangelised about the benefits of a university education. They just seem so much nicer than we were, so much more feng shui.

In a desperate effort to sort them out, I asked them to do a 500-word essay on the Taj Mahal. We had some tidy pieces, but with none of the arsiness you'd expect from my generation, nothing sarky or meme-me. No one pointed out, for instance, what a depressing comment it was on Hindu civilisation that its leading monument should be a Muslim tomb, and no one mentioned the unpalatable fact that the emblem of India had been designed by an Italian. Was it perhaps that they didn't want to be needlessly offensive?

Now we must be honest about the scope of this article; when we talk about 'young people' I mean here middle-class university graduates, though there are obviously far more of them than there were; and when I talk about my generation I mean the bunch who graduated about 20 years ago, and what a sharp-elbowed, thrusting and basically repellent lot we were. We were always bragging or shafting each other, and in a way we still are, with our pompous memoirs and calculated indiscretions. When Toby Young began an article in Cherwell with the words, 'I work harder and achieve more than anyone else I know', we all chortled in approval of this ghastly ethic. …

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