The Politics of Time Travel

“You and I belong to the same tribe. We have a shared identity, and something to talk about.” Simon Kuper uses this to describe Trump’s America, those who either grumble about the lying media or look at Trump’s tweets with absolute horror. As I highlighted in my last piece, tribal divisions are rife within politics and society, whether it be age, class, education, or heritage. But maybe it can be summed up in one underlying split, one which Will Jennings calls ‘Two Englands’.

One side is traditionally younger, more liberal, like globalisation, and believe that the future will be better than the past. The other is older, more conservative, traditionally live outside of the cities and believe things were better in the past. They want to travel back to when political correctness wasn’t rife, when you could leave your door unlocked, when you used pounds and ounces, and although some will not admit it, when things were a little more, white.

It’s the same abroad, especially so in the US. If any of you watched Miriam Margolyes’s recent trip across ‘Middle America’, you would have seen that core trait among Trump supporters. Many wanted to go back to when America was supposedly ‘great’, when everyone bought into American culture, when Cowboys ruled the lands, and although they didn’t highlight it, this was when racism was far rifer.

The divide between these ‘Two Englands’ is greater than ever. At the 2017 general election, the generation gap was the largest since polling records began. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 62 percent voted for Labour, compared with 27 percent for the Tories. For older people, the positions were reversed: 61 percent of over-65s voted for the Conservatives and 25 percent for Labour. It was just the same in the referendum back in 2016. Three-quarters of 18- to 24-year-olds voted Remain. But two-thirds of over-65s favoured Brexit.

Among young people, there’s a deep sense of intergenerational unfairness. Most believe they have had their future stolen away by the generations before them. George Eaton’s article talked to some of these angry young people; “Sad an angry to be British”, “I wish we’d had the same vote in ten years’ time, a lot of people who voted Leave wouldn’t be here”. There is no doubting young people feel completely shafted. As Greg Jericho highlights, members of “Generation Y” will be the first generation to be less wealthy than that of their parents.

Since 2010 young people have grown up under a Tory government transferring wealth from young to old, poor to rich, and welfare cuts have hit the young and vulnerable hardest, as will Brexit. Tuition fees have trebled, bursaries removed, job opportunities have stagnated, and now young people have been ripped out of the EU against their wishes. The older generations, those who look back to the past with want, who grew up with free education, affordable housing, and generous welfare, are now denying their children and grandchildren the same privileges.

Surely these advantages and ideals are the ‘past’ they aspire to get back to? Take housing for example; there’s a reason young people are called Generation Rent. Falling wages, unstable employment, and an out of control housing and rental market has left young people in the cold. Although property ownership among the over-65s rose between 1997 and 2016, it fell among 16- to 34-year-olds from 54% to 34%. 26% of those 20-34 currently still live in their family home, with the majority men. In fact, Baby Boomers were 50% more likely to own their own home at age 30 than millennials.

So, what was so great about the past? Does anyone know? Research by the Demos institute tried to shed some light on this, and the findings were eye-opening. One key finding was a want of British culture and a return to life before mass globalisation. “I think we’ve lost the values that we had then”, “It doesn’t feel like our country anymore”, “There are too many people coming into our country and not knowing anything about it”, “Whites are a minority in this country and we don’t get nothing”.

It’s clear the vote to leave the EU was one to shut up shop. Whether it was immigration, laws, regulation, or trade, it was a want to go it alone. The problem is, it’s young people that will pay the price after we leave. Leaving the EU takes away their right to live, work, and travel within 27 countries visa-free. Think of all the marriages, friendships, and memories that will now be taken away because baby boomers are worried about the number of white faces they see.

Some people in the Demos research still see Europe as some form of enemy. “They weren’t our friends, they were our enemies and to this day, it’s happening, they turn on us”, “we need to cut foreign aid”, “the EU is run by a bunch of dictators”. In a way you must hand it to Brexiters including Farage, they managed to successfully divert these people’s attention from the true problems in the country: austerity, inequalities, health, and housing.

Those who want to travel back in time are also arguably more committed to their cause. As highlighted in an earlier piece of mine, 61% of Brexiteers thought a significant damage to the economy was a price worth paying for Brexit, and even 39% agreed that family members losing their jobs was worth it. We all know the catchphrases too: “You lost, suck it up”, “crush the saboteurs”, “the will of the people”, quotes meant to put those that look to the future in their place.

In fact, it’s those who look to the future who are part of the problem according to those who revel in the past. Young people are supposedly too lazy, too invested in their phones and social media, too promiscuous, juvenile, and of course, we cannot make the correct decisions. As we know, most of this just isn’t true, as research by The Economist highlighted. Juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour are down by two thirds over the past decade, 13% less of 14-18-year olds are sexually active compared to 25 years ago, and teenagers are also both drinking and smoking less, and taking far fewer drugs.

Of course, this is just another divide that somehow Britain needs to try to fix. With ever-growing talks of a second referendum, it’s hard to see how it can be done. One side, however, may feel that over time the tide will turn their way; because their side is the future, and soon their side will be the ones in charge. What happens to Britain’s fortunes until that point, is anyone’s guess.

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