2007 - 2021

Triple Lock Britain

Driving across central Scotland yesterday, through Stirling and across a bit of Perthshire you could see blue signs of Tory electioneering pockmarking fields of (stereotype-alarm), ruddy-faced farmers. ‘Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’ they declared in simple typeface that seemed more suited to the old-guard of Rifkind and Co. The much vaunted Tory-revival seems based on older voters defending the old order. As a poll today suggests the Tories would lose the election if people under-40 voted in same numbers as over 40s, there’s now emerging a full-scale generation-war on three fronts. You could call it a Triple Lock.

Echoing what Gerry Hassan has called ‘3G Scotland’ in which the issues of Gender, Generation and Geography become significant players in political life, the figures starkly show UK’s generational split is bigger than ever:

“The mega-poll of nearly 13,000 voters by YouGov conducted over a two and a half week period found Jeremy Corbyn would be heading to Downing Street were the election decided by 18-40 year olds. Labour is particular popular with women under 40, who split 42 per cent in favour of Mr Corbyn’s party and 27 per cent for Theresa May’s.”

This is about housing: “Housing tenure, one of the best predictors of how a person will vote, has mapped closely with age in recent decades. Older voters are now overwhelmingly more likely to own a home while younger voters cannot afford to do so – with the gulf increasingly growing.”

The generation war closely matches the experience in the independence referendum, where, as Craig Dalzell has mapped, young people supported independence in huge numbers, but didn’t turn out to vote [see the Demographics of Independence here] while older voters turned-out in droves.

Thirdly, the generation gap can be seen in the Brexit vote.

A survey by Lord Ashcroft of 12,369 referendum voters after they had cast their ballot suggested that the older they were, the more likely they were to have voted Leave.

Almost three quarters (73%) of 18 to 24-year-olds said they had voted to stay in the EU, compared with 62% of 25 to 34s and 52% of 35 to 44s. Support for Brexit formed a majority among every other age category and grew with each, peaking at 60% among those aged 65 and over.

In this context the recent sneering from Tom Harris and Fraser Nelson about young people’s participation in elections is significant. It’s generational gerrymandering.

There’s another aspect to this, and that’s what’s driving these voting patterns.

Whilst UKIP and the Brexiteers like to portray themselves as swashbuckling revolutionaries breaking up the old-order and ‘giving it to the man’, the reality seems more like frightened elderly people clinging on to a fast-changing world that seems incomprehensible. While claiming to want to ‘shake things up’ they privately hoped nothing would really change. This was, some argue, a symbolic gesture from a deep-well of longing that will now have profound and extremely negative economic consequences, not for the people who voted for it, but for those who didn’t.

As Will Davies has suggested England’s Hard Brexit can be viewed as a ‘destructive urge’. He writes in ‘Thoughts on the Sociology of Brexit’:

“…in strong contrast to the Scottish ‘Yes’ movement – Brexit was not fuelled by hope for a different future. On the contrary, many Leavers believed that withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t really change things one way or the other, but they still wanted to do it. I’ve long suspected that, on some unconscious level, things could be even stranger than this: the self-harm inflicted by Brexit could potentially be part of its appeal. It is now being reported that many Leave voters are aghast at what they’ve done, as if they never really intended for their actions to yield results.

This taps into a much broader cultural and political malaise, that also appears to be driving the rise of Donald Trump in the US. Amongst people who have utterly given up on the future, political movements don’t need to promise any desirable and realistic change. If anything, they are more comforting and trustworthy if predicated on the notion that the future is beyond rescue, for that chimes more closely with people’s private experiences.”

The irony/tragedy of this that if this is true – that Brexit as a form of hopelessness was voted for with people who had given up – they have potentially burdened the future generation to joblessness, insecurity and disconnect. Blair’s ‘things can only get better’, Obama’s ‘Hope’ and ‘Bairns not Bombs’ lie side-lined replaced with Labour’s weird compromised mis-messaging, Trump’s sociopathy and Britain’s obsessive gung-ho militarism, most recently witnessed by the latest bout of Trident-Worshipping that broke out last week.

This is not to castigate older voters, as its more complex than that. Nor is it to resurrect the slightly queasy ‘Hope’ narrative of Obama-era Democrats or the boke-inducing language of ‘this is a young nation’ Blair. But it is to despair at people with power and agency voting in nihilism and disbelief while people with future dreams feeling so disaffected and alienated that they disenfranchise themselves.

This feeling of constant stasis in the midst of seeming political turmoil is about to be broken.

When Brexiteers and ‘Conservative and Unionists’ (and the rest of us) see the real-effect of this triple-lock there will have to be a reckoning. When it turns out that it wasn’t the fault of the Germans or the Poles, or the EU or immigrant children, or the Jocks, or the single-mums, or the gypsies or the ‘work-shy’ or the asylum-seekers, then we will see a new beginning.

Then we might be able to overcome the dominant politics of fear that are controlling us. ‘Strong and stable leadership’ is taking us over the cliff, clinging to the sofa.

There’s an irony that if its true that older people were motivated by the idea that ‘the future is beyond rescue’, they’ve made that more of a reality now for us all. ‘Now is not the time’ sounds more like a death-rattle than a rallying cry.



Comments (15)

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  1. Graeme Purves says:

    Your reference to the pock-marking of fields with Tory posters highlights another dimension of the divide. Driving through the Borders during the last General Election I was struck by the fact that while the rural landscape declared its Conservative allegiance, the windows of the houses in towns like Lauder were displaying SNP posters. Unionist Conservatism appeals to the laager mentality of a privileged landed class and a section of the older generation whose political outlook is dominated by fear of what change might bring.

  2. Crubag says:

    The Yougov poll has some interesting data – one bit that stood out for me was how out of touch it has come from its traditional working class base. Lady Nugee/Emily Thornberry is the comedy/tragedy version of this but in terms of cold statistics, Yougov has the Conservatives ahead of Labour for both those without higher education and those on low incomes.

    Arguably a couple of generations of self-selection from SPADs and Oxbridge PPEs have cut them off from their roots.

    And like Labour in Scotland, the gulf may be so great that they will never find the ability or the will to rebuild from a low base if they lose big this time. I don’t imagine Douglas Alexander is out leafleting at the moment to try and regain his old seat for his party, and nor likely will his equivalents in England.

    1. Heidstaethefire says:

      A large part of labour’s problem, in a U.K. context, is the disappearance of their core constituency, industrial working class. They haven’t yet found anything to replace it.

      1. Crubag says:

        It hasn’t entirely disappeared, though now more scattered and therefore less unionised. I think it’s why they’ve found it easier to relate to public sector employees, as they often are concentrated, but their concerns aren’t those of the more precarious, unpensioned, workers.

        And Labour has also consciously moved away from working class concerns (“that bigoted woman”) or their heritage (“image from Rochester).

  3. bringiton says:

    The times they are a changin’.
    Farmers seeing their subsidies disappearing into the London treasury black hole following Brexit and pensioners threatened with the value of their meager state pensions being further eroded.
    All being done by the political party which has represented their views until now and the reason being that the Tories have demonstrated their complete incompetence in managing
    the UK economy.
    Austerity is the direct result of that and whether by design or accident,public services have become their whipping boy in pursuit of the dismantling of the welfare state.
    Of course,they can only achieve this by being unaccountable to “foreign” courts of justice which is now becoming clear was their main objective in Brexiting.
    Immigration was just a smoke screen.

    1. Crubag says:

      Austerity is also a thing on the continent – look at France, with one of the highest levels of government spending (57% of GDP), and who elected a socialist on the basis that he would fight austerity, before capitulating:


      With the socialists now gone, the French are reduced to (among other things) a new, untried austerity candidate, and an old and untried anti-austerity candidate. The fear has to be that the corporatist candidate loses out to the anti-corporate candidate for those reasons, but with much wider consequences…

  4. Iain MacPhail says:

    Another of the key defining aspects of the Brexit vote in Northern England (if the day-after vox-pops were any accurate barometer) was the notion, expressed by different people, from Bury to Sunderland, that “I voted Leave as a protest vote. I didn’t expect to win or anything”.

    Yet this misinformed electorate is “the Will of the People” we keep being told – even though this electorate was in part capable of being duped by a slogan on a bus and by £350m of lies & deception & the blaming of alien “others” for all the perceived woes at home

  5. Alan says:

    I saw a comment the other day that described it as a Tory Death Cult: the older and nearer you are to dying the more likely you are to vote Tory. Revenge on those they’ll leave in the land of the living or nostalgia for the political era of their own youth that itself is long dead?

    1. Angus Murray says:

      Mortido. Look at Christianity Islam et al. All have a cock twitch for death. ‘I don’t have it so you’re not gettin it’.

      1. Interpolar says:

        Hmmm. I thought Christianity was all about life. At least that is my experience.

  6. Mrs Hurtle says:

    Like in Scotland in 2014, in June 2016, British people were given the chance to press a ‘big red button’ and change history.
    The more well-informed did resist, the others (like Trump voters) saw a chance that the timid, managerialist politics of the two-party system might actually do something memorable. Cue Farage and the media’s parallel obssession with novelty. Boom!
    The solution was obviously information and debate, which as we know, Brexit totally lacked. Younger people are used to finding out more online etc, and decided right. Until this skill spreads, the mainstream media will control many more election outcomes.

  7. James Dow says:

    I think the Brexit outcome was directed by a desire of the English to regain a sense of collective English identity by not being conjoined to an EU body. Returning to the island from a failed European expedition has all the trapping of Empire. Consolidate and prepare for the next great event. The Scots already possessing a distinctive identity had no such requirement.

    1. Philip Raiswell says:

      It should be noted that in June 2016 a higher percentage of people voted to remain in the EU than the percentage of Scots in September 2014 that voted to leave the UK.

  8. Lochside says:

    I too have noted the rich turkeys’ signs dotting the rich farmlands of Scotland advertising their voting for Christmas.
    Why these subsidy junkies think that the Tories in England will give them the same subsidies as the EU had beats me. But I look forward to that particular bonfire of the vanities.
    I am old enough to have voted ‘no’ against the common market in ’75. I viewed it then as a bosses’ club. I also did not see how an Indy Scotland would work as part of a bigger union
    Times change and although I still have ‘remains’ of those attitudes political reality and 40 years of neoliberal imperial English rule combined with grand theft of our resources had altered the landscape and me with it.
    The generation of Scots who lived through the ’79 gerrymandered reference and the final ‘re instituted Scottish parliament. .phoney as it has proved to be…and who voted got the SNP landslides are the same generation the 30% …Unfortunately the other 70% are also still here but instead of being labour only’ they have coalesced into a lumpen unthinking block of self seeking Unionists.

    I can’t bear walking through the city streets seeing young , old and mentally ill ,destitute in numbers that can only number the brain.
    I hate those of my generation that cannot empathize with these, the disabled, the jobless or debt saddled young wasting their time in universities and colleges with no prospect of decent paying work or benefits. And facing a life of enforced wage slavery into very old age.

    I hate this crowd of Daily mail reading traitors. Traitors not only to their country but to their children and their grandchildren. By their sickening selfish actions they are consigning our country and it’d very identity to oblivion as a even more depressed obscure region of Greater England.

  9. Willie says:

    Its high time these burdensome resource consuming elderly were made to understand what an absolute drain they are on society. Like the unemployed benefit junkies the Tories have plans for them too. Withering the state pension or benefit as it is now called gives a clue. And what about the proposals to introduce charging into all hospitals to catch dirty Johnny Foreigner stealing from our soon to be TTIP’d privatised NHS.

    My goodness, how can one afford not to vote Tory! Turkey and Christmas its a must.

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