... here's the bit where I'm impolite.
So last night, two hundred well-dressed members of the British literary and political eschelons gathered in the Thomson Reuters building in Canary Wharf to watch three nice white chaps in identical suits jostle for the most recalcitrant position on immigration. The great and good who were assembled for the announcement of the Orwell shortlist got to watch the leaders' debate on huge screens over drinks and nibbles. Television history was made over the clink of champagne flutes, in what I couldn't help feel was a dazzling dramatisation of the alienation of 'mainstream' politics from the reality of people's lives.
Don't get me wrong. It's wonderful to be nominated for this prize, and I'm very grateful to the Orwell Trust and the judges, and it means a very great deal to me. But the featured debate, 'Have the political classes been fatally weakened?' made me so angry I could hardly speak, even though for the first time in three years of attending London debates, most of the speakers were women *and* the topic was something other than women's rights. Because I don't see myself as part of the political classes, and I don't care if they've been fatally weakened. What's more, I don't think George Orwell would care much either. Meg Russell from the UCL constitution unit declared that voters were being 'hysterical' in their vocal impression of having been politically betrayed, and MPs who fiddled their expenses were 'just normal human beings'. A basic salary of sixty thousand pounds plus a free house, travelcard and dinner expense account does not a normal human being make.
The whole point of books like The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London - indeed, the point of most of Orwell's work - was to create a fluent political discourse which talks about most of the people, most of the time, rather than gleefully acquiescing to political privilege. When one speaker explained to the audience that 'of course, all of your children will go to university,' I wanted to stand up and yell, 'I won't be able to afford children until I'm eighty-five!'
I had spent the early part of that morning bidding farewell to my housemates, who had finally been forced out of their Tottenham bedsit after years of frantic joblessness and graduate debt in which all of us were repeatedly denied welfare benefits and adequate health care because we had the temerity to be young, poor and disenfranchised. It has taken two years for us to lose hope in our collective future. Suddenly, I'm having opportunities flung at me - of course I am, I was always the posh one - but my peers are suffering setbacks at every turn.
Over two years of economic catastrophe and personal disaster, during which young people like me have watched our future being progressively mortgaged by middle-aged politicians who enjoyed all the benefits of free higher education and parliamentary expense accounts, I started writing this blog about the rage and frustration of the new lost generation, our generation, and feminism, and bigotry, and all the other things that make me impossibly angry. I started writing this blog because I was unemployed, angry and needed an outlet for my energies, and now I have a prize and my friends have had to leave the city. It is wonderful to have a prize. But any amount of prizes, any amount of expensive canapes and any amount of televised right-wing pageantry will not make up for the manner in which the British political class has betrayed its poorest constituents and broken the hearts of its children.
On giant screens in the glittering Reuters foyer, Messrs Clegg, Cameron and Brown fought to score cheap laughs off each other's poster campaigns while appearing to be men of the people. ITV had to resort to a clunky gameshow formula to distinguish the speakers, with swooping close-ups and colour-coded ties - Gordon Brown chose a fetching metallic fuschia, presumably in order to deflect the impression that he had any sort of red flag around his neck. The whole thing resembled an apocalyptic late-1990s cookery show, with 9.9 million viewers clustered to watch the yellow, blue and pink teams compete to make the best stew out of the economy. Will the swan-faced bloke in the blue tie stave off the unemployment timebomb with a magical cake made of marriage? Or will everything burst into flames?
At my shoulder an Italian delegate nibbled expensive potato wedges. "I think I'd pick the yellow tie," she said, indicating the Lib Dem leader. "But I don't know - the blue one is really the same, isn't he?"
Nick Clegg is roundly considered to have won the debate, a conclusion that may have had less to do with the Lib Dem leader's barnstorming summation and obvious rhetorical flair than with our understanding of the way television works. Pitted against two Establishment villains with broad smiles and murderous eyes the young underdog with the strange hair always wins. In fact it was only Clegg's progressive stance on nuclear disarmament that distinguished him in ideological terms - the remaining 86 minutes of airtime were a pageant of empty rhetoric, with all three leaders struggling to give least offence to centre-right swing voters in "Middle England."
Meanwhile the few young people watching in Canary Wharf drank ourselves into a frenzy in the front row, occasionally throwing peanuts at the screen. None of the leaders' placations were directed at us. Cameron's promises of tax cuts for married couples will make no difference to the thousands of young couples who don't earn enough to pay tax, let alone get married. I'm certainly not going to be able to afford to rent a house with my partner for the forseeable future, and I've got posh parents. Brown's growly avowal of support for our troops meant nothing to the millions of young people whose first political memories are of marching and demonstrating against the war in 2003 and not being heard. And Clegg's repeated imprecation that politicians must not "let the young offenders of today become the hardened criminals of tomorrow" rang terrifyingly hollow for a generation who have had to downsize their dreams and want nothing more than the chance to hold down a job in a world that isn't entirely on fire.
Stepping out into the sparkling Docklands night, it felt like I had just attended the party at the end of the world. The magnitude of the crisis facing my generation is already frighteningly misunderstood, both by the tie-wearing men on the television and the well-meaning chicken-goujon-eating progressives at the Orwell debate.
Nobody is addressing us. And why would they? We aren't influential, or important. We don't own any property or assets, and we aren't likely to. We have neither high-powered jobs nor the organising traditions that would allow us to hold our bosses to account in any meaningful way. We will continue to sweat and toil for longer hours and fewer rewards than our parents could possibly envision, and some of us will win prizes, and most of us will be turned away time after terrible, heartbreaking time from any chance of economic stability and personal dignity, especially if we are working class, or non-white, or unwell, or women. Nobody is addressing us, and because nobody is addressing us, the energy of our frustration is being dangerously underestimated.