Eat the old (updated)


No issue recently has split the generations more – and more acrimoniously – than Brexit.

Whether 66 per cent of young Brits voted to “Remain”, as polling suggested, or maybe fewer in the end and in the privacy of the polling booth, Generation Y overwhelmingly indicated its preference for the European Union, and after the results became known, its distaste, bordering on hatred, of their grandparents, who in a similar proportion voted to “Leave”.

Young people, of course, tend to break quite heavily to the left (I blogged about it recently) and to the progressive causes in general, and you can’t get more left-wing or more progressive in Europe than the Union. The 66 per cent vote (let’s call it that for the sake of simplicity) is not unusual in politics; the left-of-centre parties almost always get a very strong youth majority in the elections. What distinguishes the current situation is its finality. When young American voters vote left, sometimes they get Obama (67 of the youth vote), sometimes they don’t, but every time the country as a whole elects a Republican, they can console themselves with a thought that in another election or two they will again get someone more to their liking (the same applies in the UK, Australia, and any other Western country). But three years from now there won’t be another referendum, another opportunity to get back to Europe.

Hence the bitterness.

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron: “Young people voted to remain by a considerable margin, but were outvoted. They were voting for their future, yet it has been taken from them.”

24-year-old Elliot Fisher from Reading, whose Facebook reaction was for some reason quoted extensively by “What a campaign. It’s safe to say that this country is full of F***ING MORONS!” (Fisher told, “Our main priority now is to stop hatred and bigotry from defining who we are. It was a bad decision to leave and we should now sit down and have a real look at who we are as a country.” Just listen to yourself, Elliot.)

A “Financial Times” reader, extensively quoted around the social media: ‘The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.”

Now, come on, as if you won’t be able to live and work in 27 other countries. Anyone can turn up to Europe and live and work, which was part of the problem and part of the reason so many people voted Leave. No one is going to deny you your freedom of movement; just tell them you’re a refugee – from Assad and ISIS, or from the xenophobic oldies of England, doesn’t matter – and you’ll be fine.

Or take Giles Coren’s screed in “The Times” (alas, both behind a paywall):

The less time a person had left on earth to live and face up to their decision, in other words, the more likely they were to vote to leave the European Union.

The wrinkly bastards stitched us young ’uns up good and proper on Thursday. From their stair lifts and their Zimmer frames, their electric recliner beds and their walk-in baths, they reached out with their wizened old writing hands to make their wobbly crosses and screwed their children and their children’s children for a thousand generations…

I just knew that I could not vote with the old people. Because old people are always wrong. About everything…

The older people get, the more they think they have earned the right to do and think whatever they damn well please. And this leads to their being wrong. About everything.

Cue in predictable mentions of global warming, recycling and immigration.

As my friend Karl commented (on Facebook, just like Elliot Fisher of Reading, but therein the similarities stop), “An interesting provocation. But let me put another twist on it. Perhaps it is older people who are better placed to remember the promises of the benefits of joining the then EEC and then the EU, who have failed to see those promises materialise. Perhaps after 49 years of failed promises that greater integration with Europe would bring greater peace, stability and wealth, older votes finally called out the fact the European Emperor is indeed naked.”

Karl is right; after a few decades of direct exposure, the older voters have found the EU wanting. But the problem is that the younger people look at exactly the same set of circumstances and love what they see. They don’t give a shit about the anti-democratic, over-bureaucratic, statist nature of the Union, they don’t give a shit about things like national sovereignty or sensible immigration policy. They’re trendy, post-national, cosmopolitan. As per Karl’s comment, their grandparents think that the EU has not been able to iron out the bugs; they themselves think these aren’t the bugs, these are the best features.

The picture of course is never static. While some young Twitteratti might wish their elders would just die or be denied a vote, as the older “contrarians” do indeed disappear, the cohort is being supplemented by a certain proportion of younger people who outgrow their youthful radicalism and progressivism. Hold another referendum ten years from now, and a large chunk of the 66 per cent would have by then started paying taxes, raising families and having adult responsibilities – and some of them would now vote Leave. Where that leaves us today I don’t know. Britain is Great with or without the permission of the European Union, but the Kingdom is becoming less and less United.

P.S. Stunning, if accurate. The 66 per cent of the Ys who voted voted to Remain, but 64 per cent of them didn’t even bother to vote. This isn’t even Brexit, this is Couldntgiveashit. Maybe before savaging their grandparents for “stealing their future”, the Ys should have a quiet word with nearly two-thirds of their own cohort.