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Politicians have spent years bribing boomers, so what's wrong with bribing millennials too?

About time somebody did.

All sorts of terrible opinions are flying around in the wake of last week’s election result. Over the weekend, I spotted both “This was a mandate for Hard Brexit” and “The DUP have always been our friends” in the wild, which suggests to me that several prominent members of the Tory commentariat may have been, unbeknown to the rest of us, suffering from severe oxygen starvation for quite some time.

Perhaps the most infuriating bad take, though, and certainly one of the most prevalent, is that the Labour Party’s 40 per cent share of the vote was gained entirely by bribing millennials to vote for it. Former Downing Street communications director Andy Coulson was scathing in GQ, accusing Jeremy Corbyn of making a “deeply cynical offer to buy those young votes with a promise to drop tuition fees”. My old mate Daniel Hannan MEP put it even more strongly, writing an article for the Washington Examiner under the headline, “Young Brits vote for free stuff”.

As you’d expect, for an argument made by Daniel Hannan, this is complete and utter bullshit of the most self-serving and least thoughtful kind.

Firstly, while we don’t yet have the complete data, it’s already clear that far too many votes swung to Labour for the result to be explained entirely by young people voting for anything. Youth turnout does seem to have been up (witness the swing in university seats); but Labour also received a big swing among people aged 25-44.

Even the bottom end of this age group is significantly too old to benefit from free tuition fees. Why an overwhelmingly pro-European generation who can’t afford houses should have voted against the Conservative Party is one of life’s little mysteries, I guess.

Secondly, it’s patronising. It assumes that young people could only have voted Labour because they stand to benefit personally from its policies – rather than, say, they believe in well-funded public services or a welfare safety net. These columnists seem to think that people could only vote the way they do for selfish reasons: I fear that may say more about them than it does about the generation they’re deriding.

My real problem with their argument, though, is this: what is actually wrong with voting for a party that you believe will spend money in ways that will benefit you? I suppose you can frame that as “bribery” if you want, but then, to the first approximation, every manifesto in history has gone out of its way to somehow bribe somebody or another. (One exception, to be fair, seems to have been Theresa May’s recent effort; this may go some way to explaining the events of the last week.)

There is of course a generation that our politicians have gone out of their way to throw goodies at over a period of decades. In their youth, the British offered them free education, university grants and generous unemployment benefits. As they grew up, it ensured they had access to home ownership, and as they got older, it cut their taxes. When the private pension system hit trouble, it encouraged them to buy other people’s houses too, and, terrified of losing their votes, it created the “triple lock” to guarantee the value of the state pension.

The logical corollary of all the terrible “Corbyn buys the votes of the young” takes is that, somehow, offering financial incentives to vote for a particular party is some dreadful new phenomenon in British politics. But it isn’t: successive governments have been bribing the vast baby boomer electorate to vote for them for more than 40 years.

This might have been fine when wages were soaring. For the last decade or so, though, they’ve flat-lined: boomer-centric policies have meant asking millennials to pay for their parents to have privileges they are unlikely to have for themselves.

I don’t believe for a moment that Corbyn’s manifesto cynically bought the votes of the young. But I rather wish it had. It’s about time somebody thought them worth bribing.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Tackling tuition fees may not be the vote-winner the government is hoping for

In theory, Theresa May is right to try to match Labour’s policy. But could it work?

Part of the art of politics is to increase the importance of the issues you win on and to decrease or neutralise the importance of the issues your opponent wins on. That's part of why Labour will continue to major on police cuts, as a device to make the usually Labour-unfriendly territory of security more perilous for the Tories.

One of the advantages the Conservatives have is that they are in government – I know it doesn't always look like it – and so they can do a lot more to decrease the importance of Labour's issues than the Opposition can do to theirs.

So the theory of Theresa May's big speech today on higher education funding and her announcement of a government review into the future of the university system is sound. Tuition fees are an area that Labour win on, so it makes sense to find a way to neutralise the issue.

Except there are a couple of problems with May's approach. The first is that she has managed to find a way to make a simple political question incredibly difficult for herself. The Labour offer is “no tuition fees”, so the Conservatives essentially either need to match that or move on. But the one option that has been left off the table is abolition, the only policy lever that could match Labour electorally.

The second, even bigger problem is that it it turns out that tuition fees might not have been the big election-moving event that we initially thought they were. The British Electoral Survey caused an earthquake of their own by finding that the “youthquake” – the increase in turn-out among 18-24-year-olds – never happened. Younger voters were decisive, both in how they switched to Labour and in the overall increase in turnout among younger voters, but it was in that slightly older 25-35 bracket (and indeed the 35-45 one as well) that the big action occurred.

There is an astonishingly powerful belief among the Conservative grassroots, such as it is, that Jeremy Corbyn's NME interview in which the he said that existing tuition fee debt would be “dealt with” was decisive. That belief, I'm told, extends all the way up to May's press chief, Robbie Gibb. Gibb is the subject of increasing concern among Tory MPs and ministers, who regularly ask journalists what they make of Robbie, if Robbie is doing alright, before revealing that they find his preoccupations – Venezuela, Corbyn's supposed pledge to abolish tuition fee debt – troublingly marginal.

Because the third problem is that any policy action on tuition fees comes at a huge cost to the Treasury, a cost that could be spent easing the pressures on the NHS, which could neutralise a Labour strength, or the financial strains on schools, another area of Labour strength. Both of which are of far greater concern to the average thirtysomething than what anyone says or does about tuition fees.

Small wonder that Team Corbyn are in an ebullient mood as Parliament returns from recess.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.