There has always been a gap between the generations, but this year’s ‘youthquake’ looks set only to widen it
Well done, millennials. We’ve hung parliament by exercising our democratic right. The exit poll at 10pm on June 8 alone induced a jeering Twitter roar from young Labour, cat-calling Theresa May’s hubris with GIFs and having too much fun to entertain the queasy implications for a government embarking on Brexit negotiations. Justice had been done, that’s all. Theresa May — turncoat on the Brexit referendum we felt so strongly about that 64 per cent of us even bothered going to the polls — exposed; Jeremy Corbyn proved the people’s hero.
Except not. Corbyn’s “victory” was no such thing, given that his party won 262 seats to the Tories’ 318. Even if he can convince the public, he won’t be Prime Minister for years. Sorry, but the revolution has not arrived.
Regardless, the 2017 general election was less a battle between the two main parties than between younger and older generations. The chasm between us and them, our house-owning, pension-assured elders, has never been so deep. While May dithered over dementia and snatched school meals, Corbyn sucked in students with promises of waived tuition fees. Touchy-feely empathy too, from a snowflake generation who won’t stand for racism or misogyny — the undeniably weak Diane Abbott boosted her Hackney majority from 11,000 to 35,000 after mainstream media “bullying”. If, as YouGov reported, 59 per cent of 20-24-year-olds voted, we swung this — albeit into indecision and a horrific alliance with the DUP. The Labour Party under Corbyn, as he put it, has “youth on its side”. May doesn’t. As long as she remains Prime Minister the younger generation’s sense of injustice can only grow, aided by our imprisonment in our own social media echo chambers. We’re appalled that the government won’t act upon what we perceive as the wishes of the whole country — but which in reality boil down to, as Brexit showed, a minority.
Then there’s terrorism, the perpetual stomach-jolting helplessness that overwhelmingly affects Britain’s young city-dwellers and with which an older generation can only sympathise, not empathise. The Manchester Arena bombing was the first time many over-sixties will have heard of the kitten-ear-wearing pop star Ariana Grande, while Borough Market at 10pm on a Saturday is almost exclusively millennials sinking margaritas at no-reservation taco joints. Fun-loving, sociable youth is being targeted. It is not the older generation’s fault, irrespective of cuts to police budgets: the blame lies solely with jihadists. But it can only subconsciously add to the younger generation’s sense of injustice: it is our heroes, our cultural institutions being targeted, not theirs.
I voted Tory at my first election in 2015 in good faith; despite Brexit I don’t regret it. But I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Theresa May’s querulous, out-of-touch and patronising Conservative Party, nor retract long-held beliefs that Corbyn would ultimately be an incompetent leader and a joke on the world stage. I threw away my vote on the Lib Dems in a Labour stronghold.
Pundits call the shock election results a “youthquake”. Of course, there has been and always will be a yawning gap between the generations. But this is exceptional and set only to widen. May’s decision to partner with the DUP may have been politically unavoidable, but for us millennials, brought up to abhor the Northern Irish party’s anti-abortion and homophobic policies, it is indefensible. Will the youthquake last until the next general election? At any other time, our notorious flakiness would have suggested not. But now, in a world where social media amplifies all cries of unfairness and constantly lays bare the horror of random violence, this youthquake might just shudder on.