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Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Election Reflection

It has been a different experience, observing a general election from almost 2,000 miles away, no television pundits or live commentary, reliant on reporting after the event, social media and online papers through, patchy at best, wifi.

The picture gained here from the consensus among these commentaries consumed whilst relaxing in the peaceful hills of a Greek island is that:

  • the Conservatives shot themselves in the foot with a realistic yet  unappealing, joyless manifesto;
  • the Labour party opened the sweet shop window filled with goodies the country couldn’t afford but the people liked the look of;
  • the country at large is getting cold feet about Brexit, which was more of a protest vote anyway, and was absolutely not going to give the hard version a ‘mandate’;
  • older swing voters swung in favour of hanging on to their assets rather than stumping up for care;
  • younger voters turned out in unexpected millions to vote for policies that would give them half a chance of getting on a housing ladder and getting at least some of the comforts in life enjoyed by the baby boomer generation.

I was particularly struck by the words of the historian and commentator Niall Ferguson, who retrospectively described Teresa May as ‘a prim, humourless headmistress’ compared to Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘dissolute geography teacher who just winks when he spots kids having a fag behind the bike shed’ in describing why the young voters flocked to Labour.

And they did, for the figures show that whilst 59% of over 65s voted Conservative, 67% of 18 to 24 year olds voted Labour.

This strikes me as a loud warning bell for an increasingly divided society. The big community cohesion challenge that we face may no longer be along ethnic lines but the intergenerational one. My generation has had it good. The highest ever levels of home ownership, foreign travel and evenings out enjoying ourselves.

Today’s youngsters know that they have no chance of emulating that. With jobs being automated, student debts to pay off, poorer pension schemes, older folks social care to be paid for somehow, and a Brexit that they largely voted against, their outlook seems bleaker.

They already talk a different language, they stay aloof digitally (all moving to SnapChat when folks over 30 adopted Twitter). There is a risk that the whippersnappers will come to resent those with greying locks, and who knows where that would lead.

We oldies need to start taking the challenge that young people face seriously. We need to start listening to them. Young people need to find a voice beyond the ballot box and need to start articulating. Together we need to be one country of multiple generations working for everyone’s future.

This election, seen from afar, looked like an ‘every man for himself’ affair not a vote for a strong, cohesive nation.