Did We See a 'Youth-Quake'? Did the Young Lose It for Theresa May? STEPHEN LAMBERT Asks Whether Age and Not Social Class Is Now the Key Factor in Shaping Voters'behaviour

The Journal (Newcastle, England), June 14, 2017 | Go to article overview

Did We See a 'Youth-Quake'? Did the Young Lose It for Theresa May? STEPHEN LAMBERT Asks Whether Age and Not Social Class Is Now the Key Factor in Shaping Voters'behaviour


FOR decades it has been believed that social class was the key determinant behind the outcome of a general election. The shock result of the Conservative Party failing to achieve an outright majority with Jeremy Corbyn's centre-left Labour Party hot on its heels has demolished this notion.

On June 8, 2017, with a turnout of 69%, Theresa May's Conservative Party got 42% of the popular vote with Labour getting 40%.

Sociologically, the Conservative Party has managed to get support of a huge section of the professional and white-collar middle classes with Labour getting the support of the blue-collar working class.

Class dealignment finally came of age last week. For the political scientist Robert Ford, age has overtaken class, to become the key cleavage in British politics.

Labour, the party of working people and their families, with an emphasis on wealth redistribution from the well-to-do to those on modest incomes, gained increased support in 2017 in seats with huge concentrations of middle-class professionals.

The Tories, the party of big business and 'Middle-England', made significant gains in the poorest seats. The richest constituency, Kensington, went Labour for the first time while the former working class mining seat Mansfield went Conservative on a staggering 18% swing. Even Bishop Auckland in County Durham narrowly escaped becoming a Conservative gain by a tiny 500 votes.

Age apartheid with a generational divide in voting habits and political attitudes has become a feature of Brexit Britain. For Stephen Burke, director of the think tank, United for All Ages, "Britain is increasingly divided by age and generation''.

The UK has an ageing population. In 2016 the over-65s numbered 12 million exceeding the number of those under 18.

There's a dominant view that Britain's elderly carry significant political weight; the so-called 'grey power'. It's also broadly the case that the older a person gets, the more likely they are to vote. Turnout amongst the over-55s was 75% in the 2015 election compared to a 43% turnout amongst the 18 to 24 age group - though turnout amongst the young soared to 64% in the 2017 election.

There's a tendency for younger people to vote Labour and older people to vote Conservative. In 2017, according to professor John Curtis two-thirds of the 18 to 24 year group backed Labour with six out of 10 pensioners supporting the Conservative Party. In 1974 David Butler (now aged 92), the elections expert, wrote of 'senescent Conservatism', the idea that the more senile you become, the more likely you are to become a Conservative!

Amongst sociologists there remains a debate as to why this is. Some researchers argue that older people are more conservative with a small 'c' - more committed to traditional norms and values. Amongst Turn to Page 32 From Page 31 older people there's more support for the Conservative Party, perhaps reflecting a more restrained view on issues of personal morality, drugs, membership of the EU, immigration and sexual orientation. This may be related to a political upbringing formed by age-generational experiences during their formative years. Others have suggested that as people get older they become more cynical about social change at home and abroad. Most have mortgages to pay off plus other costs to do with family responsibilities. …

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Did We See a 'Youth-Quake'? Did the Young Lose It for Theresa May? STEPHEN LAMBERT Asks Whether Age and Not Social Class Is Now the Key Factor in Shaping Voters'behaviour
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