Whenever I visit my nan, I always find a copy of the Daily Mail on her coffee table, and more often than not Farage complaining about immigrants on TV. In June, she proudly informed me that she voted to leave the EU, although she couldn’t quite put into words why – it was just a “gut feeling”. 64% of people aged 65 and over voted the same way in the Brexit referendum. This is a stark contrast to the replies you get if you ask a millennial their views on the British political climate. The vast majority of 18 to 24-year-olds voted to stay in the EU, and 68% of the same age group voted for Corbyn’s Labour party in 2017.
There are many ways in which society has been politically divided throughout British history. There was the strong class divide during the union strikes under Heath, the North/South separation under Thatcher, and the Notting Hill race riots in 1958. However, as is apparent when talking with my nan and my peers, the 21st century has seen a new type of divide: age.
It’s hard to pinpoint why there’s such a difference in the voting behaviours of the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. After all, the reasons we give for our political loyalties aren’t that dissimilar- a disenfranchisement with the politics of Westminster, a desire for change away from the seemingly centre-left consensus since the fall of Thatcher, and the tendency of Generation X to ignore our needs. Ultimately, both generations want the same thing: a better, more secure future. And of course, we go about seeking this change in different ways – our grandparents voted to leave the EU whilst we opted to remain. But nonetheless, these opposing outcomes were both wanted so that our country would be a stronger, better place to live.
Despite both generations simply wanting a better future, both are also marginalised by Generation X. While most Baby Boomers are retired and many Millennials are too young to hold any position of significant power, it is the in-between X-ers who make up our government, run our banks, and own our companies. This means they are able to ignore us and our needs, focusing not on the future but simply on the present. University tuition fees have been put at £9,250 a year by a government who got their higher education for free. Similarly, a survey done by the Nominet trust in 2011 found that over half of over 65s feel ‘silenced’ and ‘ignored’.
Political parties have begun to play into this divide. Labour, especially under Corbyn, has managed to claw back many young voters from smaller left-wing parties such as the Greens, whilst the Conservatives court the grey vote. This has been even more apparent in recent years as the Tories have attempted to win back the Baby Boomer vote form UKIP, meaning they have had to veer to the right. Opposing this to Corbyn’s increasing swerve to the left to cater for the disenfranchised youth, the country is becoming far more politically divided.
One of the most prominent examples of this is the parliamentary discourse that has come out of Brexit. Opinions on this have deepened the gap not just between the parties but also within them. The Conservative party hasn’t seen this much internal disagreement since the days of Thatcher. This is the very opposite of what both our generations want. Rather than creating a future full of stability, we are instead heading towards a place of distrust. My peers are sceptical of the Conservatives promise for “strong and stable leadership”, whereas my nan and her friends see Corbyn as being a useless liberal who’s bringing us back to the 70s.
It’s time we bridge this gap. We should be able to work together to achieve the best possible future, both for the Baby Boomers and their grandkids. When I visit my nan now, rather than adamantly disagreeing with her views on immigration, I instead try to listen to her and understand where she’s coming from. Maybe if their generation is listened to, they’ll no longer feel the need to vote for such exclusionary policies in order to get their voices heard. If we want to curb their fear of negative change, we need to reassure them that the next generation can be trusted. Similarly, maybe it’s time the older generations stopped demonizing Millennials so much – in a few years we’ll be the ones running the country, and its time they started to take us seriously.
So when over Christmas dinner you hear a family member spouting political views you don’t agree with, don’t just roll your eyes – it’s time we all started the conversation.