The vote to leave the European Union in 2016 uncovered a host of demographic and geographic differences that had been bubbling away under the surface of British culture. Class differences, the urban-rural divide and regional differences were brutally exposed by the result of that vote.
But the biggest difference was the difference between the old and the young.
According to a YouGov poll published immediately afterwards, people aged 18-25 voted remain by a majority of 58 percentage points (79% to 21%), whilst those aged 64 and older voted leave by a 28-point margin (64% to 36%) – making the youngest age bracket 86 points more pro-Remain than the oldest.
Most families don’t discuss politics, so parents and grandparents went to the polls without knowing what their children and grandchildren wanted or why.
Brexit is an affront to young people
This is stunning, but there are good reasons for the high Remain vote amongst young people. There are ideological reasons that we hear about quite often. Young people as a group are, for the most part, liberal, left-wing and internationalist so it’s no surprise that Brexit – a right-wing, nationalist, socially conservative coup, proved so offensive to us in so many ways.
It’s often said that Britain’s bleak economic prospects prompted Brexit as a protest vote, but Brexit will make the issue much, much worse. This is also why any successful campaign to stop Brexit should include demands to bring health and education back under public control, to restore funding for the welfare state, and to put money into towns and villages that have been hit hard by high unemployment and low wages. But that’s another issue.
Dare to share your views
All of this is well documented. We know that young people are pro-EU and we know why. The issue is that when I go to pro-EU events, it’s a rarity that I’m not the youngest person in the room by at least 20 years. This situation is unsustainable: you can’t fight and win a campaign when the demographic groups that are most engaged are the ones who are most likely to oppose you.
This is not a new problem, of course, but there’s no reason why we can’t find a new solution. Social media has presented one, with more and more young people engaging with politics online. This, however, can only take us so far.
In my experience, the biggest part of the problem is our attitude towards discussing politics. For young people who are interested in politics, admitting to your friends that you take an interest and discussing your views is not a problem but showing it publicly, by going to meetings and events or posting on social media is.
I know what the views of my friends are on Brexit, on Jeremy Corbyn, on the Prime Minister, on the various political parties and a host of other major issues, but many other people in their lives – including their parents – don’t know because it can’t be discussed.
I find this attitude very odd. Politics is a familiar topic of conversation in my house. This proved particularly important at the referendum.
I don’t think my discussions with my family changed how they voted, as none of us ever considered voting Leave. Nonetheless, talking with my mother and particularly my grandmother about why I wanted Britain to remain was vital because it allowed me to be heard, even though I couldn’t vote. It allowed my grandmother to put those arguments to her friends and other family, and I like to think that it inspired my family to be even more active in the campaign against Brexit, both before and after the referendum.
Not malice but lack of awareness
There is a cruel irony that those who tell young people “you are the future” are the exact same people who voted to kill the future we wanted to create. This wasn’t done out of malice or anger, but out of a lack of awareness.
Because most families don’t discuss politics, parents and grandparents went to the polls in 2016 without knowing what their children and grandchildren wanted or why. I believe changing this is the key to finally defeating Brexit and healing our country once and for all.
If you are another young person reading this, talk to your parents and grandparents about Brexit. Ask them if they support it and what their reasoning is, and tell them why you don’t. Join your local pro-EU group. Post on social media about why you hold your views on Brexit.
Get it out there in any way you can that this is not the future we want. Yes, this is our future, but we cannot do it alone. These conversations are key to getting our parents’ and grandparents’ support in creating the change we want to see.
If you are a parent or grandparent reading this, ask your children or grandchildren about Brexit, ask why they do or don’t oppose it, and find out why.
It is conversations like these that will allow us to defeat Brexit with the support of people of all ages, and finally allow Britain to begin the process of healing the wounds opened by that shocking and divisive referendum.