Setting young against old won’t do Labour any good

January 28, 2013 11:30 am



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A vast pool of young first time voters will be up for grabs at the next election. On the opposite end of the demographic spectrum, millions of pensioners will become electoral unknowns as Coalition attacks on social security begin to bite. Two generations that could seal Labour’s fate. Can One Nation square the circle of intergenerational justice and bring both together?

The statistics prove that polarising young from old won’t do any party any good. The percentage of the population aged 60-74 is projected to grow to 15% in 2015 (up 0.3% from 2010), while the youth share of the vote will drop as the percentage of those aged 15-29 falls from 20% to 19.5%. Championing the young at the expense of the old is no path to victory.

While young people have a right to be aggrieved at the disproportionate costs they’re bearing for the mistakes of their parents and grandparents, older people too are often the target of political games and struggle with a pace of change that threatens to make them strangers in their own country.

The solution is to bridge the divide, not deepen it. While David Willets attempts to stoke up populist anger from the young about the maldistribution of public goods in ‘The Pinch’, cooler heads must recognise that such rhetoric is propaganda designed to deflect attention from the real divide in society. John Denham, speaking at the launch of One Nation: debating the future, argued that the idea that the older generation has ripped off the younger is a false one, pointing out that “the biggest inequality is between the very rich and everybody else.”

Creating opportunities for young and old to interact and share experiences is one practical step Labour could take to alleviate intergenerational tensions. Lord Glasman advocates the involvement of the elderly in teaching the younger generation:

“What [One Nation] can offer is some contact with old people. We’re not going to abandon old people to a lonely desperate state, and one of the ways we’re going to do that is [by valuing the old] in terms of lifelong teaching.”

How could this work in practice? Perhaps by joining this idea with another key One Nation theme- vocational education. Labour is promising to tackle the issue of a two-tier education system (seriously, this time) after decades of half-hearted initiatives on diplomas, apprenticeships, and NVQs. A solution to providing for the “forgotten 50%” who don’t attend university may be to fund a national mentoring network, where older workers and the recently retired are trained and paid to provide vocational education to small groups of students in existing public spaces. This would mobilise a vast untapped resource- the knowledge of a generation- while creating a fresh educational infrastructure that doesn’t require expensive investment in facilities.

The overriding goal should be to create a society where fraternisation between old and young becomes the norm, rather than the preserve of good-natured volunteers. The result would be one nation that isn’t stratified by age or education. That, I think, could be a powerful electoral message for Labour to build on.

  • Amber_Star

    This would mobilise a vast untapped resource- the knowledge of a generation…
    People over 50 (especially women) are finding it incredibly hard to get jobs. And they need work because they are not rolling around in the alleged wealth which they’ve ‘pinched’ from younger generations; they have bills to pay like most other people. Often they are picking up part of the household bills for their children & for their elderly parents. Now they themselves are being dumped onto the dole.

    Don’t cast older people as a cheap source of mentoring for the younger generation; they are in exactly the same boat as young people! Older people need re-skilling, training & mentoring too. The retirement age is only going to move in one direction i.e. upwards; so older people are going to need well paid employment as much as young people do.

    Young people & their elders need to be ‘fraternizing’ right enough, but not in the genteel way you describe. They need to be co-operating to win a political & economic settlement which writes a new script for workers of both generations. If politicians can’t deliver then there will be social unrest; when angry ‘grannies’ finally lose patience with politicians, you can bet there’s going to be real trouble!

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    So how will communication between the young and the old solve the problems?

    How will it reduce the cost of higher education? How will it help make housing more affordable? What will it do to ensure that young people get access to a decent pension?

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    “the biggest inequality is between the very rich and everybody else.”

    Does it not depend upon how you measure this inequality? Of course, on an individual to individual basis, the comparison between a very rich man and a very poor woman reveals this to be true: some magnitude of 1,000s being the gulf. But this is to measure tiny numbers of the extremes, and to declare the results valid for the intervailing millions.

    But measured differently, that of aggregate cost to the national Exchequer and divided into net recipients and contributors, the biggest gulf is possibly between public and private sector. The tens of millions in the private sector have no hope at all of the advantages conveyed by existing public sector arrangements for pensions.

    The real answer is to drag “upwards” the private sector by increasing the state pension for those not in receipt of public sector pensions, but to do so raises questions of affordability.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      The tens of millions in the private sector have no hope at all of… …pensions.

      Fixed that for you.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      Presumably, whoever votes me “down” has some objection to the concept of redistribution not working in the favour of a lifelong public servant?

      Perhaps you feel that a lifetime of working in the private sector is not in itself something of national comradeship, and worthy of national reward when in retirement. After all, it is the private sector that very much bear the burden of the public sector costs, not so much as a broad-backed turtle with a hard shell or a strong-backed elephant, but rather as a whipped horse with trembling knees, and liable to crash to the ground under an unbearable burden.

      But, I suppose I am too hopeful.

    • Dave Postles

      ‘ Is it “sacrilege” to suggest that the public sector (myself among that cohort) “scale back”?
      Nope, not sacrilege at all, provided those at the lower levels are not adversely affected.

  • AlanGiles

    ““What [One Nation] can offer is some contact with old people.
    We’re not going to abandon old people to a lonely desperate state, and
    one of the ways we’re going to do that is [by valuing the old] in terms
    of lifelong teaching.”

    I am sure dear Lord Glasman means well, but to add to the vast number of cure-alls “One Nation” the wonder drug is going to provide is “some contact with old people”, eh?. A sort of political social club, cerebral meals-on-wheels. How damned patronising can you get?

    As somebody who qualifies as an old(er) person, I recognise that there are many people – both younger and older – who are in a far worse situation than me.

    I wish to God we could put an end to all this “one nation” nonsense, whether it is dressed up as a remedy for youth or age, or anything else.

    These hackneyed soundbites does nothing to convince me that Labour is doing anything more than hover and hope, waiting for the coalition to finally fail (of course they already have, but I mean the electoral fail in 2015), but you can rest assured in 2023 we will still not have “one nation”. We never have had, we never will have. Simple as.

    The more Labour keep pushing this otiose expression, the more desperate and insincere they sound. Young or old will finally see just how vacuous this catch-all is.

  • robertcp

    People under 35 today are in a very difficult situation compared to middle aged people let alone pensioners. People in their mid forties did not pay tuition fees and got grants if they went to university in the 1980s. They were then able to buy property at low prices for most of the 1990s.


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