At the last election the Conservative Party won 64 per cent of the vote of those aged 65 and over – and only 19 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds. As one of the few zoomers – ie, members of Gen Z – who voted Tory (I’m 22), I have despaired over recent announcements that suggest my party is more interested in pandering to wealthy boomers than it is in winning over the next generation.
Last week the government refused big pay rises for strikers. Broadly, I agreed with this – rail workers tend to get paid above the national average anyway, and avoiding a wage-price spiral is crucial as inflation approaches 10 per cent. Yet I was incredulous to see that, while the government can’t find the money to give strikers pay rises in line with inflation, it can spare the cash to reinstate the triple lock on pensions.
This means that, as many see their incomes squeezed this year, state pensions will rise in line with inflation. This would be justifiable if it was a one-off measure to protect the vulnerable. But Dominic Raab’s weak defence of the policy, suggesting pensioners are “disproportionately affected by the increase in energy costs which we know everyone is facing”, highlights the truth: it is the latest Tory policy designed to bung cash to the grey (or greying) vote at the expense of the young.
Take last year’s National Insurance rise of 1.25 percentage points. I am as conscious as any young taxpayer of the pinch this has put on my salary, even before inflation. Johnson justified it as necessary for fixing the crisis in social care and the NHS backlog. Yet the social care model the government has chosen is one in which working-age people pay more tax to protect ageing homeowners from having to part with their biggest asset – perpetuating the UK’s housing crisis. Indeed, the rapidly falling number of young people able to get on the housing ladder is the consequence of a failure to build, persistent Nimbyism, and a loose monetary policy designed to please homeowners by inflating prices. A recent announcement on housing offered nothing on more house-building, since the government is too scared to do so following back-bench revolts and poor by-election results.
This is the Tory pitch to the young: higher taxes and housing costs to subsidise older generations. This strategy is both immoral and short-sighted. If young people can’t put down roots, set up businesses or accumulate capital, they won’t experience the fundamental aspects of life that make one a Conservative. Trying to win the next election by pleasing boomers at the expense of young people is electoral suicide in the long term.
Even as a young Tory, I feel like this government is out to get me – and yet the Conservative Party does not have to antagonise young voters. Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 partly on a huge swing among young and first-time voters. With her policies on Right to Buy and her natural support for one’s ability to get on in life, she appealed to the ambitious and upwardly mobile among Britain’s young people. That my party cannot remember this makes me worry about its future.