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17 May 2013

Heresy of the week: Never mind UKIP, it’s young voters Conservatives should watch out for

One reason for UKIP’s success is that the party has a particular appeal to older people – who are more likely to turn up at the polling station than younger voters. Thus, on the face of it, this is one more reason why the Conservative Party should pay particular attention to the grey vote.

But here’s the thing. While older people are more likely to vote at elections, they’re also more likely to die between elections. A party that fails to appeal to younger people is itself doomed to die out.

Of course, as the years go by, younger people become older people – and there’s a complacent assumption that as they do so they’ll become more conservative too. But will they? It isn’t the mere passage of time that changes a person’s political outlook, but the taking-up of opportunities and the taking-on of responsibilities. 

That’s why we should be deeply concerned that for the generation that came of age around the year 2000 – the so-called ‘millennials’ or ‘generation Y’ – opportunities are hard to find and responsibilities are being delayed. 

Writing from a US perspective, Derek Thompson sets out the situation in a piece for the Atlantic

  • “Generation Y is the most educated in American history, but its education came at a price. Average debt for graduates of public universities doubled between 1996 and 2006. Students chose to take it on because they expected to find a job that paid it off; instead, they found themselves stranded in the worst economy in 80 years. Young people who skipped college altogether have faced something worse: depressed wages in a global economy that finds it easier than ever to replace jobs with technology or to move them overseas.
  • “Finding a good job as a young adult has always been a game of chance. But more and more, the rules have changed: Heads, you lose; tails, you're disqualified. The unemployment rate for young people scraped 18 percent in 2010, and in the past five years, real wages have fallen for millennials – and only for millennials.”

Saddled with student debt and facing poor prospects, millennials have responded by practicing a kind of personal austerity:

  • “...Americans ages 21-34 bought only 27 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States in 2010, compared with 38 percent in 1985; from 2008 to '11, only half as many young Americans as a decade earlier acquired their first mortgage. Having been rejected by the economy, millennials are in turn rejecting cars and houses – the pillars of the modern consumer economy.”

This isn’t just about consumerism, but family life too:

  • “More than one in five Americans ages 18-34 told Pew Research Center pollsters last year that they've postponed having a baby "because of the bad economy." The same proportion said they were holding off marriage until the economy recovered.”

In fact, rather than progressing to the next stage of life, many young adults seem to be going backwards:

  • “More than a third of 25- to 29-year-olds had moved back in with their parents. Millennials have been scorned as perma-children, forever postponing adulthood, or labeled with that most un-American of character flaws: helplessness.”

It’s all very easy to be scornful of these “perma-children”, but after the wages of the young have been taxed to pay the unfunded pensions and benefits of the retired, taxed again to service public sector debt their parents voted for and further reduced by student loan repayments their parents never had to make, that doesn’t leave much over for a deposit on some monstrously over-priced one-bedroom flat.

Moreover, the very policies that might give young people a fighting chance – such as building more houses, means-testing pensioner benefits to reduce the deficit and transferring resources from healthcare to education – would be politically impossible. Even if the Conservative Party were brave enough to act in the long-term interests of the country, UKIP would swoop in to feast on the immediate anger of older voters.

Thus millions of younger people will be left to fester in resentment and dependency – and which party do you think will benefit most from that?


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