From the NPC’s Pensioners Parliament.
Brexit and the myth of generational warfare (By Mary Brodbin)
Dr Genna Carney, Queens University Belfast, made a powerful case to argue that older voters are not to blame for Brexit.
She said that the problem was that the media played the most important role in how the referendum was conducted. Generational warfare is now as important as class and racial divides to set us against each other.
After the referendum she looked at all English newspapers from 23 June – 23 July 2016 and many of the articles blamed pensioners – ‘It falls to millennials to fix their elders’ mistakes’ was typical. But Genna took a longer term view. It wasn’t baby boomers that broke the UK. It was Cameron born in 1966 and Boris Johnson and Farage, both born in 1964.
She saw the issues of social and economic inequality as the problem. She said what is the point of having stereotypes like ‘baby boomers’ and ‘millennials’. They don’t really tell us anything. Simply throwing everybody together is actually ignoring important things like gender, class, ethnicity and any other identity you choose.
She looked at 81 articles and found only one based on meaningful research. Nineteen stories of 81 found in 15 different papers were based on the same press release from the Resolution Foundation and led on much the same tack – “Millennials are worse off than the previous generation.”
The Resolution Foundation’s “‘Stagnation Generation” report was not based on research. Instead it was provocative, partial and ideologically driven. She stressed that we must be wary of think tanks. Today there are higher levels of inequality generally – increased levels of debt, lower levels of job security, and greater levels of competition in the job market.
The Stagnation Generation report seems to suggest that each generation should be better off than the previous generation. Why is this assumption made? Children of the Great Depression were worse off than the previous generation. In the UK in the 1980s and 1990s there were children of the previous decades’ economic crisis who were worse off than their parents. It is because of the set of circumstances into which they were born and when they came of age that they hit a perfect storm of rising indebtedness and a bottoming property market and, vitally, the Stagnation Report always leaves out the retraction of the welfare state.
All of these are the result of deregulation and neo-liberalism spearheaded by Thatcher and Reagan and taken up willingly by the likes of Blair, Cameron and latterly Theresa May. They have replaced an era that provided the welfare state, NHS and defined benefit pensions between 1945 and 1979. If you live long enough as baby boomers to see new ideas from the 1980s such as deregulated markets and globalisation cause massive surges in inequality you might be a little disillusioned with politicians and big institutions that seem to put themselves and their interests ahead of the majority of people.
Much of the insults aimed at older people should be aimed at governments that use deregulation. And if you are old enough to have seen this happen you might decide to vote leave. We should work together and call out the politicians who are playing roulette with our democractic institutions, demolishing our welfare state and allowing the large multinational companies to operate as stateless entities without any corporate responsibility.
She ended – in terms of the NPC we must take a strong stand, be assertive with the media and refuse to be blamed for exercising our rights. In particular we need to keep doing what we’re good at: writing letters to MPs, newspapers, and anyone else who will publish alternatives to the mythical concensus that Brexit is a war of generations,