As the old adage has it, if you're not a socialist in your youth then you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative in age then you have no brain. I'm 30, so perhaps I'm at the point where you flip.
Modernity, at least of the 20th century variety, tends to involve intractable clashes of values between one generation and the next. For most people born before 1930, the civil rights movement, feminism and the demand for personal freedoms would have looked morally outrageous and a threat to social peace. The conservative ascendancy in the US and the UK in the late 70s was a direct response to this, driven by a sense of urgency that society had lost its moral rudder or cultural limits. Many of those who missed the 60s could be portrayed - quite rightly - as racists or sexists by the younger generation, but the latter could themselves be portrayed - equally rightly - as selfish and amoral. It is, after all, these liberal-by-default (i.e. too interested in the property market to care about ethnicity one way or the other) hedonists who put their own cultural representatives in the White House and Downing Street during the 1990s.
Yesterday I was giving a talk on the egocentricity of the digital revolution (following all this stuff), and afterwards stood around chatting to some media lecturers, all seemingly left wing intellectuals. They were dolefully discussing how their students showed no interest in criticising brainless, celebrity-obsessed and pornographic magazines, deeming it to be purely a matter of choice what one reads, and whether a woman chooses to be photographed naked. One of these academics said that it is only around five years since every class contained at least one out-spoken feminist, but that these have either disappeared, or been silenced by a new majoritarian view that it is arrogant/pretentious to take up political positions in such a way.
Five years. The Blair government has coincided with an important generational-cultural shift, just as the Wilson government did 30 years earlier. If racism and sexism started to become unacceptable in the late 60s, thanks to a post-war generation that refused to accept them, then perhaps the defence of rights started to become unacceptable in the late 90s thanks to a post-Thatcher generation that refuses to accept it, on the basis that political rights arrogantly trump consumer rights.
Today the newspapers report that sexual harassment of teachers and pupils in schools is widespread, and that girls are starting to accept sexist language as the norm. This is on top of the endless stream of stuff about anti-social behaviour, unruly kids, and hoodies playing R&B on buses. All of which raises the question - are they simply more liberated, less stuffy, more infused with the spirit of the 90s than I am? Have I simply dragged some value set from the distant past, which I want to see imposed upon this new social avant garde? My sense of frustration about this is doubtless no more morally sincere or keenly felt than that of the 60s conservatives, who despaired at what the kids were doing then. In each case, a moral gulf opens up, and politics struggles in vain to bridge it.
If history really is repeating itself, expect to see a 'conservative' backlash, whereby those born between 45-79 seize power and attempt to force some traditional values on the youth (more or less what we're already seeing, even from Ken Livingstone), followed by a bright new political dawn around 2020, in which a young fresh-faced child of Thatcher marches down Downing Street in a hoodie, swigging from an alco-pop, and announcing in faux-cockney tones that he's a pretty straight guy who used to be into 50 Cent.