This week Election Maps UK published maps showing how the UK nations would look if only 18-24 year olds voted, and again if only the post 65’s had the franchise. In the first map Scotland was almost wholly a Nationalist fiefdom with a single Labour and Lib Dem constituency.England was overwhelmingly Labour red with some Lib Dem splashes in the south west and the south coast. There were some Tories and Plaid Cymru in Wales, and a wee daud of Greens in the English deep south and Midlands.
But when we got to the senior citizens, the landscape looked dramatically different. England was almost entirely true blue with intermittent splashes of red. Scotland had a massive swathe of blue across the north east and diagonally westwards all the way to the inner Hebrides. The Lib Dems had the far north east and the northern isles, the Nationalists only had bits of the central belt, the north west and the outer Hebrides. In short, the greyer the voter, the more right wing he or she was. You Gov has worked out that for every ten years older you were, you have an 8 per cent more chance of voting Conservative. There was a similar age division in our 2014 Independence Referendum though not quite so marked. Only the 25 to 39’s were majority Yessers.
And let’s not forget that pretty massive age gap in those voting Remain against the Brexiteers. The problem with the young was not that they were anti EU – comprehensively the opposite – but that not enough of them turned up on polling day. The problem with the old was that they couldn’t grasp why being a Faragist was very bad for their health. And everyone elses. And, as per, they turned out in numbers. Though in fairness there were enough Remainers north of Hadrian’s anti-Pict device to give us a health majority of Europhiles.
But UK wide, it was a dispiriting picture for those of us who are chronologically gifted, but whose cross has never been attached to any candidate with a blue rosette. Those of us who believe that UKIP was invented to make the hard of thinking feel more loved. Yet it seems my generation are the principal bed blockers barring the way to making our nation a fully fledged state. I have my Yesmobile at the ready for when the starting gun is fired for IndyREf2 and, with some feisty companions of a certain age, it is my solemn intention to travel the land persuading the bus pass generation that, in any form of light, independence has to be a better bet than post Brexit Britannia. (The easiest way to shut me up is to promise your vote to Yes. Or I’ll send the girls round.).
One of the stranger conundrums of age and elections is the fact that in the early days of his unexpected victory at the Labour leadership election, Jeremy Corbyn had a considerable fan base amongst the young. However gifted you are in the imagination department, it’s not easy to visualise a Glastonbury audience swoon as they croon Oh, Theresa May.I suspect their enthusiasm was predicated on his attachment to assorted left wing causes in a past which was never troubled by having to put party before personal inclinations. Now that the early pledge to be led by the membership seems to have evaporated, and the need for consensus and compromise which characterise all forms of leadership seem to have eluded him, I’m guessing pop festivals are not featuring in the summer diary.
However the Corbyn phenomenon has a mirror image in the USA where 77 year old Bernie Sanders enjoys hero status amongst young activists. I have no problem with Mr Sanders’s policy positions in general, but I do very much question why someone who would be 80 at the time of the next inauguration doesn’t think it’s time to hand the baton on to the next generation – or the one after that. Likewise the currently beleaguered Joe Biden, also in his late seventies. I don’t happen to think his touchy feely stuff on the campaign trail is as creepy as his detractors now insist. There are folks you don’t mind hugging you and folks you do. (A hug from the current President would definitely count as creepy, but then nobody over 30 need concern themselves with being targeted by the groper-in-chief.)
Talking of whom, Mr Trump is also in his seventies and trying to con his nation into a second term. Outside of his more obvious character flaws – space is limited here – he is a fat, elderly man with bad dietary habits whose principal exercise is cheating at golf – which he plays with the assistance of a golf cart. It’s not ageist to suggest that for the bulk of the population hitting the eighth decade is usually accompanied by a drop in energy levels, some physical deterioration, and blunter mental reflexes. We just have to hope that when Donald Trump wanders into the wrong room and forgets why he’s there it’s not the one with the nuclear codes.
There is a serious point to all this – which is that healthy nations, just like healthy communities, are smart enough to refresh themselves with new leaders, new ideas, and fresh thinking unencumbered by too much personal baggage. Serial research shows that the most effective workforces are those which marry age and experience to youth and innovation.
Just so long as the aged and experienced don’t hog the top job past their sell by date.
Published in The National 10.4.19