No party can ignore the concerns of the young—they're angry and now they're votingby Shiv Malik / June 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Early on 9th June, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg pronounced the great lesson of 2017: “This is the election where young people started voting. And it may seem that for all the political parties, the demographics of who they have to please might be shifting.” Or, to put it more bluntly, ignore the generational divide at your peril.
Theresa May never addressed them, at least not coherently, and she has suffered the consequences. Just ask Rob Wilson, the parliamentary under secretary for civil society who lost Reading East. He described the Tory catastrophe not in terms of a failure to attract the aspirational classes, the Mondeo man or whatever this year’s equivalent of Worcester Woman is supposed to be. His post-mortem was all about age. He said that May’s manifesto—with its “dementia tax,” and axing of pensioner perks—sent an “Exocet missile” through their support base, the old. At the same time Jeremy Corbyn stole a march with the young, with a clear offer including, prominently, the scrapping of student fees.
It is already clear that seats with more younger voters saw a sharper spike in turnout, and in the Labour share. This is no one-off. The European Union referendum split starkly by age: 75 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted to “Remain,” a mirror image of the split among pensioners.
Most politicians and analysts are blind to this divide, and have ignored its implications. Many hold tight to the old class categories (“Maggie worked magic on the C2s”) with which pundits have made sense of things for so long. The parties have long been so convinced that the young wouldn’t vote, that offering baubles to pensioners has steadily become the only game in town. There can be no ballot box battle of ages if only one side takes part. But as someone who, along with my Jilted Generation co-author Ed Howker, has long written about age divides, I’m less surprised that a new generation has finally started to vote. It’s true that millennials—the cohort born from 1980 onwards—used to drag down youth turnout. These people, however, are no longer so young. The eldest are in their late 30s, often with their own children at school. For another, after years of painful austerity which have ignored their needs as perks for the elderly were protected, they have been provoked to the point where a clear and seductive offer from one of the big parties meets an eager response.