My generation can barely recall the last time Labour was in power. We need to believe things really can get better | Isabel Brooks

I often struggle to see the point of politics. I’d even go so far as to say I hate it. When mentioning this to a friend, she reminds me that when we were nine, I would loudly proclaim across the primary school cafeteria that I was “very passionate about Gordon Brown”! Labour is in power for the first time since I was 10 years old, but I hardly feel thrilled. In fact, I don’t feel engaged at all. Whatever fervour Gordon Brown inflamed in my nine-year-old heart has been snuffed out over the last 14 years.

I am not the only one to lose faith. Among my friends there was a lot of apathy towards the election. My “snowflake” generation is often accused in the media of being a “woke brigade” that cares too much about appearances and trends, with little interest in formal politics. We are seen as suffering from a lack of knowledge or gumption, inept in our methods, participating only by reposting infographics.

But this disinterest in electoral politics is hardly surprising when we have seen how little change it can make to our lives, having only witnessed the steady decline of Westminster from an already dysfunctional establishment into a hollow crown. Many older people have become jaded with politics over the past decade and a half. Those of us in our mid-20s, however, have never had the chance to develop faith in the first place.

The last 14 years are a montage of Conservative prime ministers turning away from the podium outside No 10, leaving behind a bigger mess than the one they began with. The most obvious effect is that austerity is the only precedent my peers and I have ever known. It has caused chaos at every level, starting with destroying local government’s ability to provide services or generate its own funds and culminating in a feeling that all state structures in the UK are falling apart. I went to a good state school, but it had minimal catering for Send students, and some teachers were too overworked to produce lesson plans. Some lessons involved a student reading aloud to the class while our teacher caught up with the admin. My school was then made into an academy and detached from local government supervision. It subsequently dropped down a whole Ofsted ranking and joined the lower half-percentile for A-level results.

If the last 14 years have taught us anything, it’s that change – if it’s for the worse – is possible, and the numbers bear this out. There are now almost 3,000 food banks up from just a handful in 2010. And the average person is £10,000 poorer than they would have been if the economy had grown at pre-2010 trends. Who can blame us for the inability to imagine a better future? In 2008 12% of people thought the young would be worse off than their parents; now more than 40% of people believe this.

At the same time that all this was happening, our experience of national politics was often one of farce, prioritising spectacle over substance. Favourites included the lettuce that lasted longer than Liz Truss, and the Mound, an expensive lump of mud built next to Marble Arch to attract tourists. But this slapstick distracted from more sinister political decisions, such as the opportunism of MPs during Covid, or Sunak offering his “unequivocal support” to Netanyahu and Israeli security “not just today … but always”. Always, even after 14,000 children have been killed. And let’s not forget that nothing has been done to alleviate the rental crisis or the climate emergency.

Instead of progress, all we’ve seen is politicians clowning around, fiddling with their staff or bullying them, subjecting themselves to absurd activities on TikTok, or simply stating outlandish and extreme things in order to be seen as “saying it how it is”. By betting on this election, MPs treated it like a horse race. And they’re right: it is sport, a public relations game, a back and forth between Westminster and the media where the only real product at the end of it all is content. How could anything consequential come out of such a pageant?

Of course, not all of these problems are unique to the UK. International politics hasn’t provided an anchor of hope or normalcy either. What I’ve seen of international affairs has been bleak. I was too young to vote in the Brexit referendum, was still a child when Trump became president, and #MeToo was at the forefront of my adolescence. The widespread failures to hit global goals on climate mitigation, the recent rise of the far right in Europe, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the genocide in Gaza have all contributed to a ubiquitous feeling that those in power do not have their citizens’ best interests at heart. A 2020 study found younger generations across the western world are “more dissatisfied with democratic performance than the old” and have “more discontent”. The researchers put it down to the “growing intergenerational divide in life opportunities”.

The most hopeful political events of my adult life have been at the grassroots level. The “stop Cambo” campaign forced Shell to pull out of a controversial oilfield project off the Shetland Islands, and there have been collective action campaigns against six water companies in the UK for failing to report sewage spills and pollution. It is brilliant that these actions happen, that private actors are held to account for their mismanagement and exploitation of former state assets, but grassroots activism doesn’t help to rebuild our state, or connect us to electoral politics.

Many younger people’s break with Labour over recent years has been based on its cowardly approach to Palestine, the environment and the economy, and a brutal stance on policing and trans rights. It seems that it offers no path away from the cycle of issues elections have been fixated on since 2010: immigration, the NHS crisis and taxes.

If Labour can’t create a feeling of optimism by instigating real change with actual policy rather than showcasing the same tired old spectacle, it won’t be able to interest people in formal politics. Without healing this rift, a Labour government will run its course without significant impact, continuing the trend of the last 14 years, and thereby laying the ground for something potentially even worse.

I catch myself being despondent and chide myself for it because I don’t think defeatism is helpful. I want to hope that things will get better. Labour has won, but the party has repeatedly told us what it will do: continue with austerity and short-termism, largely because there is no money. It’s doubtful Labour will conduct any radical restructuring of the state. This is a shame for many reasons, but is particularly frustrating for young people because this could be a great opportunity. After all, a large number of us are looking for something to believe in, given the chance.

The Guardian