Raking over the smouldering embers of the UK general election, there is one salient theme that speaks to the future. The deep socio-political-demographic divide between the Elders and the Millennials has reached a tipping point. A youthquake has struck. Society – not just in the UK but across the West – is about to change in a way that has massive implications for politics, the economy and investment.
Another extraordinary outcome
Despite their bitter disappointment at losing their majority, the Tories should celebrate this fact. In 2015 David Cameron secured 11.33 million votes – 36.9 percent of all votes cast. In 2017 Theresa May got 13.66 million votes or 42.5 percent. So Theresa got 2.3 million more votes than Call-Me-Dave. (Not quite as good as John Major’s 14.1 million votes in 1992 – the largest electoral mandate in UK history – but not bad either.)
Another 70 votes and Mrs May might actually have made it (Kensington – Labour majority of 20; Perth- 21; Dudley – 22…).
What happened this election is that we reverted to a two-party system, with Labour getting 40 percent – an astonishing achievement by Mr Corbyn: many more votes than Tony Blair’s victories of 2001 and 2005. And the Tories took 13 seats in Scotland. Indeed, this new Tory government – assuming it will be working with the DUP – has significant representation in all parts of the UK, which is good news for Unionists.
But Mr Corbyn has much more to celebrate than Mrs May. And there is one thing that comes out of the numbers which suggests that they now have momentum towards a future victory…
When Mrs may called the election just after Easter one poll put the Tories on 48 percent and Labour on 24 percent. At the local elections on 04 May the Tories gained 558 council seats while Labour lost 320. But in the second half of May the Tory lead went into slow decline.
The final Tory vote of 42.5% was exactly in line with what the pollsters had foreseen in the final weeks – but the Labour vote was much better. That said, the Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday, published on 04 June, gave the Tories 41 percent, Labour 40 and the Lib Dems 8 – an uncannily accurate forecast.
This time we cannot really say that the pollsters messed up. So why were most of us so convinced that the Tories would win with a handsome majority, even though we knew that their campaign had been lamentable?
Mr Corbyn has much more to celebrate than Mrs May.
First, the canvass returns from the Tory activists were extremely positive – quite correctly in large parts of Scotland, where I spent part of the campaign.
Second, we completely underestimated the effectiveness of Labour’s use of social media and internet propaganda channels. The Canary, for example, is a Corbynista news website which peddles the frothiest of fake news about evil Tory bogeymen.
Third, it turned out that the Tories were entirely unprepared for an election while Corbyn & Co, had been planning one for at least 18 months.
Fourth, we assumed the disgruntled Millennials would stay at home. How wrong we were…
The Conservatives won 317 seats in the House of Commons last week (not 318 as is widely reported because one of those is the Speaker, Mr Bercow, who sits for Buckingham). There are 650 seats in the House of Commons, so theoretically a government needs 326 seats to command a majority.
But the Irish Republicans, Sinn Féin, who won seven seats, are “abstentionists” – meaning that they don’t take up their seats; so the majority threshold (not forgetting the Speaker) is 321. Given that many small party MPs have poor attendance records, so long as the Tory whips maintain good discipline, it is very unlikely that the combined Opposition could vote down Mrs May’s government. The passage of the Queen’s Speech through the Commons next week is assured even if the DUP were to abstain (they would certainly not vote against).
The new cohort of Scottish Conservative MPs, like their leader Ruth Davidson, wants a soft Brexit by which I understand that they want to stay inside the Single Market and the Customs Union. Forget the ten-strong DUP: it is the 13 Sottish Conservatives who are the real power-brokers now. This Tory parliamentary party is much more disposed to soft Brexit than its predecessor.
While the Tories agonise, the Corbynistas have a spring in their step. They think it is very unlikely that this parliament will last its full five-year term; and very likely that Mrs May (or her successor) will make a hash of Brexit. And when the next election comes they will be well placed to win.
The Millennials awake
A left-leaning friend of mine emailed me the morning after the election. I think the young have woken up and spoken – and next time they will shout! he wrote. Apparently, 72 percent of 18-24 year olds voted this time, up from just 43 percent in 2015. And not only did the darlings manage to get out of bed, they overwhelmingly voted for Mr Corbyn. About 66 percent of them, to be precise, against the 29 percent who voted for Mrs May
The cathedral and university city of Canterbury fell to Labour last Thursday night. This was the first time in the long history of the seat that it had gone red – by a wafer thin majority of 187 votes. Sir Julian Brazier, a Roman Catholic and a social conservative, had held the seat for 30 years. The word on the ground is that the Labour candidate, Rosie Duffield, was a good campaigner who worked the significant student vote assiduously.
And what about Kensington, which Labour won by 20 votes? A Tory friend of mine who lives there was furious that the party sent him to canvass in neighbouring Fulham, oblivious that the haunt of the hedgies and oligarchs was about to fall to the Corbyn hordes. The local Conservative Association forgot that there is extensive social housing and student accommodation in the Royal Borough.
Populists versus Millennials
Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal points out[i] that for all the fuss about populism, it’s the growing discontent of the millennial vote that’s been a consistent theme in recent elections in the West. Many young voters have rejected capitalism entirely in favour of a socialist model. They want not just university tuition fees to be paid by the state but more generous welfare payments as well. In the US presidential primaries last year, socialist Bernie Sanders drew more under-30 voters than Clinton and Trump combined.
What’s more, numerous studies, according to Kraushaar, show younger voters are much more sceptical towards the value of parliamentary democracy than their elders.
Young people want meaning. Economics doesn’t provide it: causes do.
This is because they have a fundamentally different belief system. They believe that fairness is more important than freedom. They believe that socio-political constructions – like, for example, LGBT rights, or the rights of asylum seekers – are absolutes which may not be questioned. Consequently, any intellectual who deviates from the standard view of such things – Germaine Greer and Dr Adam Perkins are just two very different examples – should be no-platformed. In plain English: silenced.
There’s nothing new about young people embracing radical politics. In the 1960s and 1970s idealistic Western students lionised Castro and Che Guevara. Each generation has its own brand of radicalism. But Kraushaar argues that something more is happening now. Young people want meaning. Economics doesn’t provide it: causes do.
Lest you suspect that this writer is unsympathetic to the young, let me now explain why the change of mindset amongst the Millennials is actually rational in the economist’s sense of the term. The young understand very well that their economic prospects are much inferior to those that their parents enjoyed at the same age.
The generation who were born in Western Europe and North America the first decade after WWII were fortunate – more fortunate than both their parents and their children.
In the UK, they went through secondary and tertiary education gratis. They got into the property market when houses were still affordable and rode the long wave of house price inflation. With rising stock prices as well, they built up significant personal net worth. They enjoyed virtual lifetime employment at the end of which they were paid generous occupational pensions – often from the age of 60.
They benefited from rising healthcare technology – all state-funded. They received state pensions aged 65 which were guaranteed to rise regardless of economic growth (the triple lock). Their life expectancy is increasing by about one hour every day – so any 65 year old knocking around today can expect still to be with us until the early 2040s.
The over-60s get free bus passes; the over-65s, if they work, don’t pay Employees’ NICs (at 12 percent) on their incomes. The over-75s get free TV licenses and often more general kindness and concern than their grandchildren. Add to this the fact that mean disposable income has hardly moved since 2008.
(When you next hear John Humphrys jousting with Ken Clarke MP on BBC R4’s Today Programme, do remember that, thanks to their age, they pay considerably less tax, as a proportion of income, than a nurse in the NHS. But any proposal during the election campaign to attenuate the privileges of the elderly was howled down by the Left.)
Most people vote for what they perceive to be in their economic interest. The Millennials have rightly worked out that, despite the fantastic progress in technology through which we are living, they are not assured of their parents’ – and grandparents’ – privileges. They will have to handle the colossal debt burdens that most Western nations – the UK in the forefront – are ratcheting up. They fear they will receive a modest state retirement pension at the age of 75 – or probably 80.
The young understand very well that their economic prospects are much inferior to those that their parents enjoyed at the same age.
If they don’t take action they suspect that they will be condemned to lives of relative economic decline. Why this reversal of fortune has happened will be the subject of another essay. For now: consider that, when the baby boomers were born, the Chinese and the Indians were in food-poverty. What is happening now is a major re-distribution of global wealth of which Corbyn & Co. would surely approve.
But that is not great consolation to a graduate leaving uni with a huge debt burden and struggling to afford decent accommodation in London.
Labour’s conquest of social media
Jeremy with David Beckham’s body? A meme machine cranked into gear.
Last Saturday my 15 year-old godson showed me a Momentum video that he and his school mates had watched via Facebook. It’s very soppy: a sweet little girl asks her father why she can’t get free school dinners stroke tuition fees as he once did. But actually, it’s not a stupid question.
And then the penny dropped: the Corbynistas have already started the 2020 campaign – by which time these kids will be of voting age.
Not all Millennials are left-wing, and there are many left-wing Elders. Research published by Ipsos-MORI in 2013 found that 40 percent of those born in 1945 or before agreed with the proposition that Government should spend more money on welfare benefits for the poor, even if that means higher taxes. Yet fewer than 20 percent of Generation-Ys (people born in the 1980s and early 90s) agreed.
And Millennials often have conservative tendencies despite their socially liberal outlook. For example, increasing numbers are teetotal non-smokers – while quaint hobbies like baking and even knitting are popular (or so I am told).
The Marxist trend amongst the young is not unstoppable. But it will be difficult to reverse in declining economic circumstances. Momentum is indeed well named.
The apotheosis of Mr Corbyn
Many people concluded during the election campaign that if you want a politician who is sincere, authentic, consistent, possessing Zen-like calm and yes, well-mannered – then Mr Corbyn is your man. The fact that he doesn’t understand economics, and holds up Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela as his model did not matter. Nor did his support for terrorism. His laying a wreath on a Palestinian murderer’s grave is regarded as academic.
Not very long ago, he was an aggrieved hirsute goblin plotting the downfall of global capitalism from his allotment shed. Now he is the standard bearer of the New World Socialist Order. Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders and Jen-Luc Mélenchon (average age about 76) have sent their congratulations. Youthful Owen Jones posted a video saying: “Mrs May, we are coming for your government and you should be scared”.
Just one more push, they think, and the entire edifice of capitalist oppression will come tumbling down.
Paul Mason, Polly Toynbee and Yasmin Alibi-Brown cannot disguise the delight on their faces. Just one more push, they think, and the entire edifice of capitalist oppression will come tumbling down.
The post-Brexit miasma has facilitated, not the advance of aggressive populism, but the advance of the delusional left. Death to austerity! And hierarchy! Hallelujah! The Promised Land is near!
Meanwhile in France…
As the British political superstructure fragments, so in France it is cementing. President Macron has already secured a majority in the Assemblée National in the first round of the French legislative elections. His reform programme is therefore assured. We shall know the full strength of his mandate next Sunday evening (18 June). But the point is that as the British negotiating hand weakens, so our continental counterparts gain in confidence.
As I argued in the May edition of the MI magazine – this is a good time to buy large cap French stocks. That call is bolstered by some quite bullish data on the Eurozone economy where unemployment is at its highest level since the financial crisis. The Eurozone economy grew by 0.5 percent in Q1 2017 – more than double the rate of the UK.
In France, low growth and youth unemployment of well over 20 percent has engendered millennial radicalism. But, paradoxically, that has not translated into anti-European sentiment amongst French youth. On the contrary, most of them want to live in a European socialist paradise rather than a purely French one. Though, I admit that a significant minority of French Millennials voted for Madame le Pen in the Presidential election – only to abandon her last Sunday when the Front National got just 13 percent of the vote. And true, last Sunday, only about one third of French 18-24 year olds voted.
Macron’s reform programme may well be undone, not in the Assemblée National, but on the streets – by the lissom vegans at the forefront of French youthful activism.
Where we are now
So the challenge of getting a passably decent Brexit deal has just got harder. In fact, the Europeans now have a clear motive to foster political instability in the UK. And Mr Corbyn is their ideal opponent. He, in turn, now believes that his ultimate victory is assured.
The English Reformation (about which I wrote in April), and indeed the French Revolution, were not single discrete events, but rather chain reactions. History is much more like chemistry than literature. When Mr Cameron – egged on by Mr Clegg – rammed through the House of Commons a bill to hold a referendum on EU membership, he should have considered that.
The Brexit negotiations open (supposedly) on Monday, 19 June – a few days’ before the Queen’s Speech. If Mrs May’s gamble had come off, she might have been able to outstare the Eurocrats. Now they have the upper hand.
Meanwhile, here and elsewhere, the baton will soon pass from the Elders to the Millennials. Even if Brexit is achieved, the young will probably seek to undo it later on. The big issues of increasing wealth taxes and the Universal Basic Income about which I have written this year will loom ever larger.
Elders, be afraid: the snowflakes are on the march. They are angry. They don’t much care about your so-called freedom. And they want your money.