A new General Election looms on the horizon, and somehow this one feels more important than most. The past two years should have given us enough of a foretaste of what Tory rule will mean if it’s allowed to continue.
I am a big fan of @waitingirl13’s remarks on twitter about how the baby boomer generation is the true “selfish generation” and their characterisation of Millennials and Gen X/Y as selfish is perhaps a form of projection onto us of their own behaviour when it comes to voting patterns.
So, I thought I’d sit down and work out just what those patterns were. Bearing in mind the adage that “A person below 30 who doesn’t vote Labour has no heart; a person over 30 who doesn’t vote Conservative has no head”, and observing that voting intention on age shows that the crossover between the two parties is in the region of 35, I thought I would look at what that means for different age groups.
The following assumes a more-or-less White, cishet, middle class career advancement. It would, of course, be very different for the working class, say, in the coal mining communities, for example.
If you are 70 this year
You were born in one of the first NHS hospitals, or just before the NHS was founded. Your parents received the first ever Child Support benefits and you went to State-funded schools your entire life. This is thanks to the Attlee government’s reforms, the most ambitious attempt to ensure that no one was ever left behind in poverty. Also, one of the largest Labour majorities: your father and mother (and grandparents) lived through World War 2. Your father probably fought, or worked in some way on the war effort. Your mother worked on the home front. And when it was over, they decided they wanted it to be for something. They voted for Labour to ensure you would never have to go through what they did growing up in the 20s and 30s.
You grew up in the great atomic arms race of the 1950s.
You went to university somewhere between 1965-69. Momentous years in the history of counter-culture, civil rights, and protest, no? In 1966 you voted Labour for the first time, bringing Harold Wilson in as Prime Minister. In 1967, they legalised homosexuality and banned the death penalty, and you probably had something to do with that. You may even have dabbled in student socialism. If you’re a woman, you may well have engaged (actively or less so) with the newly emerging “second wave” of feminism, campaigned for equal pay, against sexual exploitation in marriage and wider society, and started hammering out ideas along those lines.
Your tuition fees were paid by the government, and you may even have had a grant to support your living costs through university, too.
You may well have remained a part of that atmosphere of protest, liberty, civil rights and more, through into the early 70s. We’ll assume you didn’t vote for Ted Heath’s government (you’d have been 23 or so) but you would have been just starting out in the world of work when that happened, and you would have suffered through the energy crisis, and the “4-day week” period.
Your generation, and the one before, voted to join the European Union (or its predecessor, there’s a bunch of different names and I’m not 100% sure which are talking about the same thing and which aren’t – the EEC, the EC, the EU, and so on).
You had Mary Whitehouse trying to tell you what should and shouldn’t be on television, and you saw the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial. Yours was the generation that helped come up with the concept of politically correct language for minorities and women.
But by 1978 you were well into your career. The “Winter of Discontent” may have shocked you. You were suffering from huge inflation rates and for the first time ever, unemployment had risen above 1 million. The next year, aged 32, you voted for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party.
Unemployment quickly doubled, there was a second Winter of Discontent, rioting and more. But you were alright – your taxes were falling, your job was secure, and in 1982 after a complete failure to respond to intelligence reports that Argentina was planning something, Thatcher sent in the troops after the fact to win back the Falkland Islands. Inflation was falling and you voted for Thatcher again in 1983.
The 80s did well for you: you were possibly a little older than the “yuppie” bracket, but by now you are advancing in your career, maybe a higher income bracket. You’ve got children (still supported by Child Support) although now you have to hold fundraising days to help their school pay for equipment and repairs, it all seems fun. So in 1987 you feel comfortable enough aged 40 to vote in Thatcher for a 3rd consecutive term, even as “negative equity” was causing an economic recession (not that dissimilar to the crisis that caused the Credit Crunch in 2008 – houses becoming worth less than what was owed on the mortgages).
Your opinion on Thatcher’s departure may or may not have been positive: the Poll Tax was largely unpopular, and led to rioting on the streets. But in the wake of Gulf War 1 you voted for John Major’s government – the 4th consecutive win for the Tories. The privatisation of key public services continued, started by Thatcher and a key element of Major’s government. By this stage, phones, water, electricity and soon the railways, were sold off to private businesses to run on behalf of the taxpayer. And by this stage, you may have owned shares yourself, or bought financial services that were based off them.
Thatcher and Major tore up the principle of “cradle to the grave” protection and the idea of a safety net so that no one should be left to fall into poverty. Under Major, the principle of unemployment benefit was trashed and you voted for that, because while you had that safety net now you felt as though people out of work were “scroungers” and their social security should be contingent on efforts to find work. That was a direct return to the policies of the pre WW2 years (and you betrayed the people who fought for you in that war, and what they wished for the future of this country, by doing so).
Now, “youth culture” was a problem to you: you supported the CJA (1995) that attempted to outlaw raves and “rave music”, and that limited the right to freedom of assembly.
The only thing that turned you away was the “sleaze” that riddled the Major government, and a “New Labour” that was eager to pander to you as well, even promising to match Tory spending plans.
Major signed the Maastricht Treaty, although he opted out of the “Social Chapter”, legislation that would have offered basic protections for workers in this country.
You saw the fall of the USSR, the reunification of Germany, and later the break-up of Yugoslavia. You saw Somalia fall into chaos, and the Rwandan massacre. You saw people fleeing war, destitution, persecution, and…
This ushered in the era of UKIP, and it was your generation particularly to which they attempted to appeal. In 1973 you voted “in” and now you were campaigning “out”.
You probably opposed the Human Rights Act (1997), because you were more aware of crime than ever (even though rates were falling) and tabloids screamed headlines. Never mind what you campaigned for when you were 20. Now you just wanted to string the little bastards up (and never mind if they were guilty or not; never mind making sure the cops didn’t just pick someone and stick it on them – and you lived through Guildford 4, Birmingham 6 etc!).
You probably agreed with the abolition of student grants and introduction of tuition fees paid by student loan instead, and saddling the younger generation with a mortgage-sized debt at the start of their lives.
Everything you didn’t have to pay for, because your parents and grandparents had, you now refused to pay for, for the next generation. And that is what you are voting for if you, aged 70 this year, vote for the Conservatives.
If you are 50 this year
You were born in 1967, in an NHS hospital. You grew up supported by child support payments from the government. You were 11 during the Winter of Discontent and 12 when Thatcher came to power. You probably have early memories of Nixon, the end of the Vietnam War, Ted Heath being ousted during the energy crisis and ’74 miners strike.
You went to university in 1985-89, and while you may not have had a support grant, you would certainly have had your tuition paid for by the government. You were the very definition of Yuppie, “young, upwardly-mobile”. Yours was the first generation that grew up with Thatcher’s “no such thing as society” ethos, and the consequent focus on education as an economic investment for yourself.
But in 1987, this piece assumes you voted for Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party. You may or may not have campaigned against the nuclear arms race of the 1980s, but you were probably aware of the debate between multilateral and unilateral disarmament. You would have known about the negative equity situation but may not have connected it to your own prospects. You would have heard the figure 3 million unemployed. It was your generation in particular that rioted against the Poll Tax and, while you probably weren’t one of those rioters, your voice helped bring down Thatcher.
You would have laughed at Ben Elton, Lenny Henry, The Young Ones and so on. You would have been “right on” and may have cheered for Ken Livingstone at the GLC, and you would have taken on board the new language of political correctness as your own, and seen the previous generation talk about gender, race and disability quotas.
If you’re a woman, your feminism would be that of the Greenham Common women and you may have joined them, or at least, thought about it. You’re probably a bit too young to have been a part of the “feminist sex wars” of the early 80s, though. You may have been more interested in the feminism of “successful capitalist women”, power-dressing, and climbing the corporate ladder and smashing the glass ceiling. As a young woman in the late 80s, you’d have heard a lot about that and may have thought it could be you.
Yours was the generation of the charity telethon: your generation and those slightly older will have been targeted by all of: Live Aid, Band Aid, Save The Children, Comic Relief and so on. These events were founded and held to target you as a wage earner (except Band Aid and Live Aid – you’d have been at university then). Despite high unemployment, you had a full safety net still, when you were young. But the Major government started the narrative of the “undeserving poor” and that may have meant you, for a time.
In 1997, you probably voted for Tony Blair. Your reasons may have been just to get rid of the Tories. They may have been that you were okay with the “New Labour” rebranding. You were 30, so we’ll assume you agreed with things like the Human Rights Act at that stage. But Blair also took away the student grants. Maybe you opposed that at the time, it’s hard to say.
You were aged 40 when the Credit Crunch happened. You are well into your career, earning well, have children of your own. Your finances are probably dependent in some way on share values, and you may have a private pension fund as well as your state pension. You’re probably in the mid-range tax bracket and want to protect that. So in 2010, you voted for the Tories’ austerity plan, and the dismantling of the social security safety net that protected you.
It is your children who will suffer if you vote for the Tories to continue dismantling it post-Brexit.
If you are 40 this year
You are approximately my age, and you have had similar events in the political sphere to me. You and I were born into the Winter of Discontent and don’t remember it much. We have early memories of the miners strike of ’84, you may have direct memories of the Falklands War (I don’t, I’m a year or two younger than you), and we have early memories of seeing the Ethiopian famine on the news. We saw the Challenger shuttle blow up, and we watched the Berlin Wall come down, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. We grew up “in the shadow of the mushroom cloud” and the possibility of automated Mutual Assured Destruction. We watched in horror and impotence the massacres in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda. We saw news about the war between Iran and Iraq, and then Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm. We went to schools holding fundraisers and hit by teacher strikes as they campaigned against funding cuts to education. We are “Thatcher’s Children”, brought up in a world where greed and profit motive are essential (and yet also taught not to judge others – we were getting a lot of mixed messages from peer groups, grown ups and government!)
If you are a woman, you’re the first generation to grow up where feminism wasn’t in question (the ideas and policies might be, but feminism as a movement was broadly accepted as positive on some level at least in lip service, by the media and politicians – but by no means universally!) Yours is the first generation to grow up where it was possible for people to seriously posit a movement called “post-feminism” (a nonsense, but people did). Yours would have been “3rd Wave” feminism and the freedoms and rights the previous generation of feminists fought for, now gave yours more freedom to explore. You saw “New Man” become “New Lad” and “Men Behaving Badly”. You saw the Spice Girls and “Girl Power”, and the claim that “Margaret Thatcher was the first Spice Girl”.
We were the Britpop (and Cool Cymru) generation, and bought Oasis, Blur, Catatonia, Supergrass, and Manic Street Preachers. Before that we headbanged to Nirvana and if we had any musical ambitions, probably thrashed out a naff version of Smells Like Teen Spirit on a cheap electric guitar.
We, and the generation below us, are the generation derided as the “selfish generation”.
We are the last generation to go through university without having to pay our tuition fees and take on that debt. Our first chance to vote was the 1997 General Election and we probably celebrated getting rid of the Tories. We probably marched against tuition fees, or otherwise expressed our opposition.
We were the ones derided in 2001 and 2005 as “apathetic” when New Labour offered us so little to inspire us, and pandered only to the older generations.
If you are 40 this year, you might have voted Lib Dem in 2010. At 33 you were just on the cusp between the Lab-Con switch. Gordon Brown didn’t inspire you, but perhaps enough of the idealism remained. Whatever your reasons and your vote, we got the ConDem Nation, the coalition government that may not have been as bad as it could have been but was still eroding civil liberties, dismantling the NHS slowly but surely, and forcing austerity measures.
In 2015 (38), you may well have bought the Tory lie that the economic depression was down to Labour mismanaging the economy and that only austerity-plus could restore it – the opposite policy had shown success elsewhere in the world. If you didn’t, and voted Ed Miliband, you were outvoted by the 50-70 year old groups above.
If you are my age or thereabouts – if you are 40 or approaching 40 this year – then this election may swing on your vote. Are you the “selfish generation”, or do you want to give your children the same rights and advantages that your parents enjoyed, but voted against you and your children having?