What do David Cameron, David Miliband, Nick Clegg, Yvette Cooper, Michael Gove and (just about) George Osborne have in common? They are part of the Jam Generation: a powerful cross-party phenomenon laying the foundations of our political futures. The soundtrack to their formative years is Paul Weller’s tuneful, raucous songs of the 1980s: ‘The public gets what the public wants/ But I don’t get what this society wants/ I’m going underground . . .’
Now they are at, or near, the top of politics: two party leaders and the foreign secretary are sons of the Weller years. So are the fast risers in Gordon Brown’s latest Cabinet reshuffle. Some, like James Purnell and Andy Burnham, are really the little brothers of the Weller era and coming up fast behind.
We are living through a sudden generational tilt that is leaving the Baby Boomers who have run Britain looking sorely past their vote-by date — something I’ve been exploring in a programme examining the impact of this change for Radio 4. Far from being ‘young pretenders’ or ‘young Turks’, they now dominate the elites at Westminster, pushing their older, greyer colleagues into subsidiary roles.
This still makes me pinch myself as someone whose first sight of David Cameron was at a college Valentine’s ball in 1986 with his shirt hanging out of his black tie suit. Around that time, I made Michael Gove the ‘Pushy Fresher’ of that term in the Cherwell student newspaper (prophetic, no?). I remember David Miliband as an earnest college representative at the Student Union.
The bookend events of our university lives were the end of the miners’ strike in 1985 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the Soviet Union by the end of 1991. We arrived at university at the conclusion of a long tussle with union power.