The idea that parents and grandparents would vote Leave out of hatred for their own children is as absurd as it is vile. But some Remainers will make any accusation in their rage against Brexit
The baby boomers of Britain are in the grip of a virulent, infanticidal mania. The EU referendum apparently caused highly contagious spores to be released into the air, primarily affecting those aged 65 and over, causing them to forget any maternal, paternal or other protective familial instincts and instead seek to cause maximum financial and emotional suffering to their own children and grandchildren, for the pure pleasure of it.
Or at least so says Jonn Elledge, staff writer for the New Statesman, who brings every ounce of confirmation bias in his body to bear on a new YouGov poll in order to pronounce that by voting for Brexit, baby boomers and older people must actively “hate their own children”.
First of all, let’s be clear about what the YouGov poll actually says:
That is, a significant majority of Brexit voters would be willing to tolerate significant damage to the British economy in order to see Brexit fulfilled, a tendency which the poll goes on to reveal becomes stronger among older age groups.
Is this necessarily evidence of “Brexit extremism”? Perhaps, but one can only say for sure if one takes it for granted that economic growth (or avoiding economic harm) is the sole valid consideration of a rational person, a premise which neither the poll nor Jonn Elledge even attempts to make.
And of course, the corollary to these figures is the fact that the same “extremism” is alive and well among Remain voters, many of whom would dearly love to see Britain heavily punished economically so long as it meant that Brexit was subverted and they could stay in their beloved European Union:
Jonn Elledge takes no notice of this latter fact, though, and immediately launches into a hysterical tirade against the evil older generations who clearly could have had no other motive for voting Leave other than to watch as their children and grandchildren suffered and led diminished lives. No, seriously.
The older Leave voters are, the more likely they are to think crashing the economy because they don’t like Belgians is a pretty fine kind of idea.
That trend reaches its peak among the Leavers aged over 65, fully half of whom are happy to tell pollsters that they don’t give a shit if Brexit causes a relative to lose their job, they want it and they want it hard.
Ah yes, let’s begin with a glib assertion that Brexit is all about not liking Belgians or other funny foreigners. One might think that one year on after having his worldview so thoroughly and humiliatingly repudiated by the British people in the EU referendum, Jonn Elledge might have had the humility to go back to the drawing board and question some of his glib and not-very-witty assumptions about what motivates people to make political choices. But apparently not.
The thing about the over 65s is that relatively few of them work: to be blunt about it, those most enthusiastic about people losing jobs are those who don’t have jobs to lose. The vast majority of this oldest cohort will be on pensions, whose value is far less likely to come under threat from a recession than almost any other form of income. Most will own their own houses, too. They’re the section of the population most likely to be left entirely unscathed by the Brexit-based recession. They are quite literally alright, Jack – and, it turns out, fully half of them don’t care if their kids aren’t.
Baby boomers, as a cohort, benefited from free education, generous welfare and cheap housing, then voted for parties which denied those things to their kids. Their contribution to intergenerational inequality led my colleague Stephen Bush, in one of his frequent bouts of being infuriatingly good at his job, to note that, “The baby boomer is one of the few mammals that eats its own young.” All this we already knew.
Nonetheless, it’s rare to see this selfishness communicated so baldly, so shamelessly. When asked directly whether they’d swap the wealth and security of their own children for a blue passport and the ability to deport Polish plumbers, they said yes in huge numbers.
“Would you like your children to have a better life than yourselves?” You Gov asked them. And the reply came back: “Fuck ’em.”
This YouGov poll could have touched off a genuinely interesting conversation about the balance between present wealth and future liberty, about other historical examples of populations allowing themselves to be bought off with bread and circuses in exchange for turning a blind eye to the way that their societies were (mis)governed. But that would have required a British political media class who did not think as a herd that the European Union is an unquestionably Good Thing, and that anybody who dissents from this groupthink is an irrational, evil hater.
Does Jonn Elledge seriously believe, in his heart of hearts, that those older people who voted for Brexit did so with the expressed intention of harming their children and grandchildren – or at least not caring that such harm might come to pass? Does he not realise that the counterfactual, unrecorded by YouGov (who did not bother to probe more deeply) is that perhaps these older people – rightly or wrongly – thought that by voting for Brexit they were preserving some other vital social good for their descendants, something potentially even more valuable than a couple of points of GDP growth?
I would posit that the supposedly hateful Daily Mail-reading generation of grey haired fascists scorned by Jonn Elledge actually do not have any particular desire to inflict economic harm on their children and grandchildren, but simply realise – through having lived full lives through periods of considerably less material abundance than those of us born since the 1980s – that other things matter too. Things like freedom and self-determination, precious gifts which were under threat during the Second World War and the Cold War, and which the older generations who remember these difficult times therefore do not casually take for granted.
They correctly perceive that sometimes there is a trade-off between short term economic security and long term freedom and prosperity. Can anyone who knows their history – or at least has watched the recent Dunkirk movie – doubt that the British population would have been immeasurably safer and better off in the short term had we made peace with Nazi Germany rather than fighting on alone after the fall of Europe? And looked at through a purely economic lens, how many years of subjugation beneath the jackboot of a fascist regime would have tipped the scale and suddenly made it worth fighting for freedom after all?
This time, the choice before us is nowhere near as difficult, and the trade-offs nowhere near as severe. Even if this incompetent government mishandles Brexit as badly as sometimes appears likely, bombs will not fall from the sky to level our cities and destroy our cathedrals. This is not to understate the effect that a mishandled Brexit negotiation could have – any uptick in unemployment or decrease in economic activity is highly suboptimal, with real human consequences.
But there are negative consequences associated with failing to safeguard our democratic institutions and fundamental liberties too, though they often seem remote or even irrelevant until suddenly they are both present and irreversible. Those who have been on this good Earth for a few more decades than Jonn Elledge perhaps appreciate this fact more readily.
Our politics has become increasingly consumerist in recent years – the politics of me me me. And unfortunately we now have a young and poorly educated millennial generation – my generation – who see politics only through the lens of what they can get for themselves in terms of perks and opportunities. This makes them particularly vulnerable to any old charlatan who comes along spewing EU propaganda suggesting that the European Union is the only reason that they are able to “live, love and work in other countries” (to use their nauseating phrase du jour).
Ultimately this is yet another total failure of the pro-EU Left to remotely empathise with those on the other side of the Brexit argument. It represents a colossal failure of imagination to sincerely believe – let alone publish in a major national political magazine! – that a generation of parents and grandparents who scrimped, saved and sacrificed to raise their families now want to cause them harm merely to warm themselves in the glow of imperial nostalgia as they enter their twilight years.
And yet this is what Elledge, the New Statesman and countless commentators on the Left would have us believe. Frankly, this haughty and arrogant attitude is more dehumanising of its victims than that of the xenophobe who may believe that foreigners are good people, but simply doesn’t want them in his country – at least there is still the outside possibility that they vaguely respect the other.
I’ll say that again, lest there be any doubt or confusion – by holding this vile opinion, Jonn Elledge, the New Statesman and anyone who concurs is worse than a garden variety xenophobe.
A society which does not respect its elders cannot long endure, and these puffed-up millennial moralisers seem determined to drive us into the ditch as fast as they possibly can.
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