Comment Student Experience

Sure, Mr Hancock, the cavalry is coming, but it’s not a COVID vaccine.

“If you’re not a liberal at 25, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative by 35, you have no brain”, is something Churchill obviously never said. Regardless of who said it, as young people, we should all be offended whenever we hear this sort of rhetoric, that patronising pat on the head that says ‘it’s nice that you care about the world, but one day you’ll see why you’re wrong’. As Joe Biden would say, what a bunch of malarkey. 

It’s no secret young people are increasingly liberal and in favour of radical change. At our last general election, 77 per cent of voters aged 18-24 voted for centre-left/left wing parties, the huge majority of which voted for Jeremy Corbyn. In 2017, the figure was even more astonishing. If Margaret Thatcher were still alive, she would attribute this to the brainwashing universities and she could not be more mistaken, because unlike her, our political beliefs are not ideologically centred. So why are we all a bunch of pot-smoking, statue-toppling, Attenborough-worshipping climate fanatics? I’ll tell you why. It’s personal. 

To take our most recent example, as I have previously written, the student/young adults demographic has been one of the hardest-hit casualties of COVID, yet one of the most ignored. Back in March, the UK governments cancelled exams faster than we could say ‘Human Jenga’. In England, when results day finally came, it turned out that your future would be decided by (as the PM later said) a “mutant algorithm”. And now, the majority of students are paying £9250 for an online video streaming service. 

But that’s not even the biggest con yet: as we were (mis)led to believe that teaching would be very much hybrid, it was made clear that the best thing to do was to move back to university. (Heaven forbid the private accommodation companies should lose out on their extraordinary profit margins this semester, right?) And so here we are, COVID spreading through halls of accommodation like a hot knife through butter: some locked up, some so scared of being locked up, they’ve already gone back home; lucrative accommodation fees down the drain. 

Is locking up thousands of COVID-positive students necessary? Probably, since our ‘Test and Trace’ system is a myth and there isn’t another way to stem the tide of infections. But don’t take this to mean that it was inevitable. The government and the universities knew a second COVID wave was likely this winter, but they still lured us back. They knew teaching would be all online, but still said it would benefit us to be near campus. Yes, delaying our in-person return to January would have been frustrating, but from a public health (not to mention mental health) point of view, it was clearly the right thing to do. 

Let’s remember that authority only exists if it is accepted by its subjects. At the moment, students seem to be obeying the quarantine rules, but with the prospect of not returning home for Christmas, it’s naïve to think that they will just sit back and take that. There will come a point where the authority of both universities and governments regarding this matter will end. 

But let’s not take our eye off the ball here. The contempt with which our generation has been treated during this pandemic is merely a symptom of the widening age divide in our country and across the Western world. Aside from COVID, we face record youth unemployment when we graduate, astronomical debt, not to mention the climate crisis, a lack of action for which will mean that nothing else matters. 

The other day, the WHO declared hope for a vaccine by the end of the year. It may indeed be the case that, over the next few months, we will see the beginning of the end of this health crisis. But all that will mean will be that we go back to our pre-COVID way of life. And that’s not good enough. 

Our generation will never forget what we have been through; the brunt we have had (and will have) to bear for the incompetence and immorality of the establishment. If the effects of 2008 didn’t mark a turning point in our attitude, believe me when I say 2020 will. We are the next generation of leaders. We, not ‘Operation Moonshot’ or the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, are the cavalry that is coming. 

Image via Creative Commons