I saw a girl begging yesterday. She was maybe 17, but it was hard to tell because she was so dirty. Her hands were stained with nicotine and she had her arm around a big dog.
I was with my 14-year old daughter, who gave her some money. Then we walked on.
It reminded me that this could be my little girl in a few years time, if things things go wrong. It got me thinking back to when I was young.
I lived in a squatting community in North London to which my friend and I fled after the heroin addict we were sharing a house with, had a knife fight with his brother.
It was during the time of Thatcher, the miner’s strikes and the Cold War and lots of young people were squatting. It was cheap and surprisingly fun. We made a cafe and had our own entertainment, including a hilarious annual dinner and dance with cabaret. My mother was dismayed.
It might not have been aspirational but it was an option to side step extortionate rents and bad housing, in a way that it’s not today. Rents are higher but state benefits are less, if available at all, and squatting rights have largely been removed.
The girl I saw yesterday was one of many I see quite regularly in the city where I live now. They wander aimlessly around with their homes on their backs or sleep rough in the streets. What a shocking waste of potential it is.
My daughter will come out of university saddled with debt. How will she afford to buy a home, assuming there are any affordable houses to buy? It’s not fair to expect young people to live with mum and dad into their 30s. They need to be building lives, having families of their own. These should be their most productive years.
The darkest cloud on our horizon was probably the Cold War. We grew up in the shadow of the bomb.
During the Cuban Crisis my mother went to classes to learn how to paint her windows white and hide under the stairs in the event of a nuclear attack. She didn’t believe it; she knew we would all die and she bought some poison to make sure our end would be quick. That’s why, in my twenties, I joined the Greenham Common women to campaign against Cruise Missiles.
We thought we had a lot to contend with, but looking around now and I see young people having their futures stolen. There are fewer jobs, paltry wages, almost no pensions. Health care is galloping towards the US model where the rich get treatment and the poor die. All this, against the backdrop of climate change. It’s a pretty crap inheritance.
So when Jeremy Corbyn stepped forward to lead the Labour Party, my heart rose. For one thing, he was my MP for 13 years, and jolly good he was; like few politicians, he’s a man of principle.
He is making the case for a society that will not just benefit the top two per cent, but everyone, including the young and the poor. To many people’s surprise, including his own, he looks likely to win the leadership contest. And why? Because he is addressing issues no other politician has the courage to do.
If he does win, we have five years to change people’s minds and get him elected. If we want it, we are going to have to work for it, but I think it could be fun.