UK Politics

Laurie Penny: Voice for a Generation

The young are struggling. That fees for attending university are set to increase substantially, leaving students heavily in debt by the time of graduation, is only part of the problem. When they graduate, many students find that the only work they can obtain is unpaid work: that of an intern. Even if the internship leads to paid work, the salary will be insufficient for them to even realistically consider purchasing a small place to live. House prices relative to earnings are at such high multiples that the thought of purchasing somewhere to live with a mortgage becomes wishful thinking until they are in their thirties. They are what authors Ed Howker and Shiv Malik have referred to as the jilted generation, the youth that believe that they will have to pay for the follies of their elders. Laurie Penny has become the voice for this generation.

While she now has a firm base writing for the New Statesman, she also writes for the Guardian. Both of these journals give her a large following. She has her own blog, shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, Penny Red.  On top of this she has written for the Morning Star and the Liberal Conspiracy blog. Moreover, she also has over 10,000 followers on Twitter, this is substantially more than a number of much more well established journalists. In her first blog post in 2007, Penny,  born in  1986, declared:

What the young left needs is energy, inspiration, a sense not only of the consequences of inertia but of the viscerally thrilling possibilities for change. What we need, most of all, is a comprehensive sense of fun.

Penny is providing it all, and she is being cheered on by the youth for whom she speaks. That is not to say all youth are of the left or that she speaks for all youth, but she expresses the views of many in coherent and well thought out articles. When the middle aged and middle class are up in arms about padded bikinis being sold for young girls, Penny the young socialist feminist reminds them what it is like to be teased for having a flat chest. Padded bras and bikinis might be a neat solution for girls at primary school who resort to stuffing tissue from toilet rolls down their crop tops. She does this in an article for the Guardian attracting nearly seven hundred comments.

Admitting to the facts that she suffers from clinical depression, has previously suffered from an eating disorder, that she is nervous of speaking in public and that she plays FarmVille has probably not done her any harm. On the contrary, it may have worked to her advantage: it might be endearing to her readership that she admits to being someone with real problems and has interests that some might be embarrassed to admit.

On a panel at the Compass conference in June of this year, Penny declared:

A radical youth movement requires direct action, it will require risk taking, and it will require central, independent organisation. It will not require us to join the communist party or wear a silly hat, but it will require us to risk upsetting, in no particular order, our parents, our future employers, the party machine, and quite possibly the police.

The lost generation has wasted too much time waiting to be found. Through no fault of our own, our generation carries a huge burden of social and financial debt, but we have already wasted too much time counting up what we owe. It’s time to start asking instead what the baby boomer generation owes us, and how we can take it back.

No more asking nicely. It’s time to get organised, and it’s time to get angry.

It is therefore no surprise that when she has been writing about the recent demonstrations in London, she can do so not just as a journalist, but as a genuine participant.

I do not have to agree with all the political views that Laurie Penny expresses, and I am also aware of what Gene has accurately referred to as a “brouhaha” between Penny and this blog, but as a UK citizen I am proud that this country has both freedom of the press and the right to protest.  With her reporting from inside police “kettles”, Penny is surely one of the most vibrant young journalists that we have. This country would be poorer without her.