Labour's New Leader Will Need to Connect With the Über Generation

Politics is as much about insight as it is about judgement. The better leaders are those who, in the words of Enoch Powell which are worth repeating, "hum the theme the rest of the country is singing."

They understand, either instinctively or through studious perception, the temper and wishes of the electorate.

Nor can the traffic be one way. Voters looking at those seeking their support want confirmation that the song they are singing is reciprocated.

The lesson of Ed Miliband's defeat is not just that you cannot will the country to be as you want it to be but your task is all the more fruitless if you personally do not represent or show some understanding of the prevailing moods, aspirations and anxieties of the country you wish to govern.

Which is why the most inspiring visit I made during the election campaign was also the most illuminating when it came to Labour's problems.

At the University of Chester, which I toured while accompanying Chuka Ummuna for a day, there is a new unit where young entrepreneurs, for a peppercorn rent, can start up a new business.

The benefits to the university and the students were obvious. The low rent mitigated the start up costs and the risk of failure, while the college stood to make a small return if the venture turned successful. In addition students were provided with an opportunity to learn the rudiments of building a business.

On its own this was an admirable example of the private and public sectors casting aside dogma to forge a mutually beneficial partnership.

This is not the post Thatcher generation but the post Blair one. IT IS more fluid, unbeholden to neither the state nor past ideologies

Yet what made the visit so memorable was the enthusiasm and application of the tyro tycoons.

The majority were in their early twenties, while many were studying full time and holding down second and, in one case a third, job while trying to get their business off the ground.

All confounded the stereotype of undergraduates as posturing layabouts more concerned with the degree of alcohol volume than gaining a degree itself.

And you were left wondering what has Labour to say to this generation?

To be fair to Chuka, he was one of the few within the shadow cabinet to champion the cause of entrepreneurialism and deserves much credit for bringing Small Business Saturday to the UK.

Yet the impression of the Ed Miliband years was a Labour party which was at best indifferent and at worst openly hostile to the market and, by extension, fatally isolated from the spirit and ethos of those students we met in Chester.

This is not the post Thatcher generation but the post Blair one. It is more fluid, unbeholden to neither the state nor past ideologies.

To say they are less socially minded would be a disservice but they are more independent and consumerist.

Above all they have been weened in the age of choice, whether that is multi-channel television, video on demand or the plurality of internet.

The Über generation may frown at the US taxi company's corporate rapacity but that rarely deters them from using its convenient service.

Anyone accustomed to the instant gratification of the App will unquestionably expect a similar response when they come to interact with the state.

They will care little who provides their schools or collects their taxes, still less whether that service is provided by staff who are unionised or wedded to particular ideology. Their only concern will be whether it caters for them with the same efficiency and immediacy as YouTube or Instagram.

This is not to say that the state cannot provide this, nor to argue for de-unionisation (protecting workers' rights will surely become more important as the bonds of the public sector and institutions are weakened) but it is to say that Labour has yet to appreciate the extraordinary changes that are taking place.

This is a party wedded to the gramophone in the era of the download.

The challenge for Labour is to find a way of matching its values of solidarity, justice and compassion to a free-spirited and disparate age.

And it must find a leader who speaks to and reflects the generation he or she wishes to represent.

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror.  

More about the author

About the author

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror. He has worked in Westminster for 15 years including spells on the Birmingham Post, Scotsman and the London Evening Standard. A hispanophile, he has also written for El Mundo and has a deep interest in Spanish and Catalan history, culture and food.

Follow Jason on Twitter.

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