Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Tyranny of the Mature...

The author and playwright Michael Frayn was famously asked in 1974 who he was going to vote for in the General Election. He said Labour because, as he put it, "was going to protect the unfortunate from the tyranny of the fortunate".

This paraphrasing and juxtaposing of Bertrand Russell's famous comment on the nature of capitalism came back to me the other day when looking at the polling of the AV referendum and other polling data provided by Mike Smithson on This data also informs the Coalition Government and its policies far more than is generally known.

Last May, it was the so-called "grey vote" which won the election for the Conservatives or rather lost it for Labour. The 65+ age group voted Tory by a big majority and this age group was also over-represented in terms of turnout. Anyone who has been in politics for any length of time will know the truism that the elderly tend to vote and they tend to vote Tory. Research by Ipsos-Mori shows the 65+ age group voted 44% Tory, 31% Labour and 16% Liberal Democrat but 76% of them voted compared with just 44% of 18-24 year olds and 65% overall.

Thus, the older voters voted in numbers and voted Conservative and that's why David Cameron did as well as he did and he knows that - the Coalition's policy agenda since May 2010 has been predicated on NOT upsetting the elderly so pensions have been improved and the elderly have arguably been protected from the worst of the cuts.

In the AV referendum, it seems a similar schism is developing - the "No" campaign has its strongest support among older people while the "Yes" campaign is strongest among the young. It's little wonder the bulk of the Tories identify with the elderly and support a "No" vote.

I find the prospect of a demographic conservative block against reform deeply worrying and depressing and I also consider the pro-elderly policies of the Coalition wrong. We were once told that "we were all in this together" but the detail of the economic policies suggests that isn't always the case.

Nonetheless, reform-minded politicians in all parties have to work out how they will sell a message of change to a deeply conservative yet motivated section of the electorate. Resolving that challenge will be a major factor in the emergence of a coherent response to Cameron's "liberal conservatism".

To constantly reject and demotivate the legitimate aspirations of the younger age groups is also unwise and risks undermining the political process. Occasionally, democratic societies need to put aside inherent conservative tendencies and embrace reform and change.

On May 5th, I will be voting "Yes" to protect the immature from the tyranny of the mature.

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