Regardless of our leaders, each generation seems to fall under an old adage. Photo: Getty.
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You are probably becoming more conservative

New research suggests we are defined by the political events we experience between 14 and 24. But they may only shape us so much – voters appear to drift to the right over time.

"I’ll always hate the Tory party. The only problem now is that I hate Labour too."

This recent confession by James Bradfield – frontman of the Manic Street Preachers, one of Britain’s biggest bands in the 1990s – has highlighted how we choose our political identities.

Most people choose a political side. Bradfield’s irritation came from no longer having one to support. “I hate the idea there’s no one left to vote for”, he said, referring to Russell Brand’s ambitious polemic from the autumn.

Some voters may feel a similar despair, but most are likely to have already chosen their team in next year’s general election. Two-thirds of voters had already done so before the election campaign started in 2010.

And it appears that around a third of voters will never vote for a particular political party.

Many of us clearly form set political identities. We define ourselves by being for or against a particular party, who we take as best or worst representating our idea of how to run a country.

But when does this happen? Research published this week by the New York Times has shed light on the issue.

They suggest we are defined by what happens to us between 14 and 24. Events do not affect us evenly throughout our lives. By our mid-20s we have already been affected by our most formative political moments.

Things that happen at 18 have three times the impact than those we experience at 40. We become almost impervious to new information or ideas in our mid-40s, and although we register a little more in our 50s, we are still less affected by events then than when we were 10.

We are, therefore, shaped by the administrations we grow up with far more than those we work under. The views of the next generation can often be heard in the cries of their bands – as the Manic Street Preachers once represented for some of those formed under Thatcher.

But the legacy of Thatcher – and any specific political event – may not be quite as impactful as it appears. People seem to move to the right over time regardless of the individual experiences of their generation.

Those formed by the Thatcher years were born in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They are the generation now reaching their early 40s and winning positions of influence in many fields. 

And yet, despite Thatcher’s cultural unpopularity, that generation does not appear to be especially left-wing.

They are half as left-wing as today’s 18-24 year olds, who were shaped under New Labour and might have been expected to react against what became a stumbling government.

66 per cent of 18-24 year olds support Labour, the Greens or the Lib Dems, while just 27 per cent support the Tories or UKIP. In comparison, 58 per cent of those over 60 support the latter - the traditionally right-wing parties - with just 40 per cent of them supporting the more left-wing parties favoured by younger voters.

The Times' data suggests that generations become more conservative. Baby boomers, those now aged between 49 and 68, have largely moved to the right including those who, thanks to JFK and the Democratic dominance of the decade, were well to the left in the 1960s.

The generation shaped by Thatcher also appear to have moved away from the well-documented discontent of the 1980s.

Specific political events may partly shape each generation, but they seem to come up against an immutable fact: most of us start on the left and drift to the right. 

 


[1] The age breakdowns come from averaging YouGov's two most recent Sunday Times and two most recent mid-week Sun polls. 

 

This is a preview of May2015.com, an affiliated site launching later this year. You can find us on Twitter.

 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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