I was driving to Gunnersbury Park last Sunday for my weekly 10K run when I caught the tail end of Broadcasting House on Radio 4. The presenter Paddy O’Connell was interviewing George King, the 19-year-old who scampered up the Shard at the beginning of July without the aid of ropes or suction cups. As you’d expect, he was impressive. He first set eyes on Britain’s tallest building as a 13-year-old on a school trip and decided then and there that he wanted to climb it. He embarked on years of rigorous training, taking up boxing and running a 62-mile ultramarathon. Last August, he became the first person to ‘free climb’ the world’s tallest climbing wall in Holland, and he then spent the past eight months reconnoitring the Shard — checking out the various security systems in different disguises. When the day came, it took him 45 minutes to scale the 310-metre building.
What really stood out in the interview, however, was his disdain for other members of his generation. ‘Programmes such as Love Island are reinforcing a very, I think, pathetic mentality for men,’ he said. When O’Connell asked him what experiences would stiffen their backbones, he said: ‘It’s about challenges, it’s about overcoming adversity, it’s about breaking through what you thought was impossible.’ This was music to my ears. Whenever I drone on about ‘snowflakes’, my wife and children take the mickey out of me, pointing out that grumpy old men have been complaining about the softness of the younger generation since the beginning of time. As for Love Island, whose latest series ended on Monday, they’re all huge fans. They’ve bought into the fashionable dogma that traditional masculinity is toxic and welcome the fact that the men on the show devote several hours a day to ‘personal grooming’ — including shaving off their body hair. In their eyes, there’s nothing wrong with these preening popinjays; they’re just in touch with their feminine side. So it was marvellous to hear a 19-year-old on Radio 4 echoing my most curmudgeonly views.
Further confirmation arrived this week when the Times ran a front page story headlined: ‘-Millennials? They aren’t much cop at police work.’ It revealed the Home Office has carried out a review into police recruitment, in which 244 officers and members of staff were interviewed, and concluded that today’s school leavers cannot cope with the demands of the job. ‘Participants gave examples of recruitment interviews where candidates had stated they do not like confrontation or were shocked by the need to work different shift patterns and possibilities of cancelled rest days,’ the report says. One senior officer complained about how millennials have been ‘wrapped up in cotton wool’, with the result that their mental health is too fragile to handle the day-to-day challenges of policing.
This is a major worry in light of Boris’s recent announcement that he intends to hire 20,000 more police officers to deal with the rising tide of knife crime, particularly in Sadiq Khan’s London. But if the new recruits are averse to confrontation, it’s hard to see them frisking people they suspect of carrying concealed weapons.
More likely they’ll ask them to hold their truncheons while they perform some skateboarding tricks in the hope of impressing them, just as the officers did who were supposed to be policing the Extinction Rebellion protest. Less ‘stop and search’ than ‘simper and stroke’. It will be hard enough to persuade them to put on helmets, given how much time they spend each morning making sure every hair is in place.
David Cameron’s National Citizen Service was intended, in part, to toughen up today’s younger generation, but the fact that it’s entirely voluntary has meant the take-up has been disappointing. The National Audit Office recently estimated that 213,000 teenagers would be participating in 2020-21, somewhere short of the 360,000 target. In addition, the residential courses don’t exactly sound like boot camp. On the Service’s website, the FAQs include ‘Can I come with my mates?’, ‘Will there be wifi?’ and ‘Will I ever be forced to do an activity?’ The answer to that last question, incidentally, is: ‘Nope, that’s not our style.’
I’m afraid the police only have one option if they’re looking for men and women who can maintain law and order on our streets: the over-55s. Given how poorly paid journalists are these days, and with no pension to speak of, I might even give it a try.