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.