Have the older generation betrayed the young by voting for Brexit? Should they have thought of their children and grandchildren, as George Osborne advised? Here Grant Woodward and Hilary Andrews set out both sides of the argument.
Grant Woodward is deputy features editor of The Yorkshire Post.
SPEAKING to my father can be an illuminating business. Here’s a man who was born just before the outbreak of the Second World War but who has shared the same benefits as the Baby Boomers who followed in his wake after peace broke out across Europe.
Discussing the present housing shortage, and why it was so difficult for many of my generation to buy their own home, I asked him to talk me through his property purchases down the decades.
The story that followed was one of ever increasing profit – houses bought and sold at a healthy return as price increases outstripped wage hikes. The average home now costs 10 times as much as it did in 1980. The average wage back then was £6,000, today it is £26,500. Yet hidden in that latter figure lies a yawning pay gap.
Four in five new jobs are in sectors averaging under £16,640 for a 40-hour week. Working full-time on the hourly minimum wage would gross just over £13,000 in a year. The explosion of part-time and zero-hour jobs means millions of workers can’t even earn that pittance.
So for many, salaries have barely doubled in the best part of four decades, while the cost of buying a home has risen ten-fold.
Having long since paid off their own mortgages, the Baby Boomers have turned landlords, snapping up buy to lets and charging younger generations on stagnant salaries a premium to rent them, thereby paying off their mortgages for them.
And yet to listen to their reasons for voting to leave the European Union – and polling data reveals that it is their generation that was the most heavily in favour of Brexit – the housing crisis was one of them.
The blame for this, they insisted, lay with immigrants. Not the selling off of social housing from which they benefited, buying up homes at a fraction of their true value and, in many cases, selling them on at vast profit. Nor their inflation of the property market through the purchase of rentals to top up their final salary pensions. Of course not. Perish the thought.
It is just one examples of how, for so many older voters who backed Leave, it was far easier to look outward rather than within for the causes of the social problems that blight Britain.
Boomers may well respond by citing the high rates of interest they paid on their mortgages and the low rates they now endure on their savings.
That may be so, but paying high interest rates on cheap property is better than not even being able to scrape together a deposit because prices have gone through the roof. And low rates on savings pale in comparison to the bleak future of much of today’s workforce who won’t have a final salary pension to look forward to.
No, Brexit will come to be seen as the Baby Boomers’ ultimate betrayal of younger generations and those that will follow. A knee-jerk response to a series of red herrings, a protest vote with the potential for long-term catastrophe that they won’t be around to endure.
And red herrings are what the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have fed the Leavers. Thriving on the perfect storm presented by the refugee crisis, terrorist threat and continued financial difficulty, they painted a narrative that bore little resemblance to the truth. Issues were conflated, broad brush strokes applied.
The Leave campaign was wrapped up in the rhetoric of “taking back our country”. How exactly? According to the independent House of Commons library just 13 per cent of our laws are made in Brussels. In the last five-year parliament there were four bills out of 121 that came out of Europe.
Then there is the question of our ageing population. It’s universally acknowledged that immigrants from all over the world prop up the NHS and our social care system.
Who exactly do the Baby Boomers think will fill the void those workers leave behind? Or do they simply figure that it’s a long-term problem they don’t need to worry about?
There’s a distinct whiff of short-termism about the Brexit vote. A hefty slice of misplaced nostalgia too in the idea of a magical return to a merrie olde England which only really existed in the pages of Nigel Farage’s night-time reading.
And here is perhaps the greatest irony of them all. While the Baby Boomers may tell themselves that their vote to leave the EU will create a more stable, prosperous Britain for their children and grandchildren, it has removed the steady hand of David Cameron and risked it being replaced with the flibbertigibbet fingers of Boris Johnson, with Donald Trump licking his lips at the prospect.
Thanks, once again, for nothing.
Hilary Andrews, from Leeds, is a retired doctor and a longstanding reader of The Yorkshire Post.
LIKE your father, I, too, was born just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
No doubt like him I have also worked hard, paid my taxes and have a healthy interest in politics and the decisions which affect all our lives. Last Thursday, I voted to leave the EU.
This decision wasn’t born out of xenophobia or an “I’m alright Jack” attitude. Far from it. I read the arguments on both sides. I listened to MPs from across the political spectrum and when I put the cross in that box it was because I genuinely believed that Britain would be a better place if it was freed from the stranglehold of the EU. I also believed that it would be a better world for my eight grandchildren to grow up in.
If the truth be told, I didn’t think we had won that argument. So much so that I didn’t watch the coverage of the various counts. Instead I went to bed and when I woke up I was pretty much certain that the country would have voted for the status quo.
Even at 7am when I switched on the radio and heard the result I didn’t quite believe it. But it was true. I wasn’t alone and to dismiss the 17m people who voted the same way as a selfish and deluded older generation is both naive and untrue.
The reality is more complicated than those broad brush strokes allow. I am sure that more under-25s voted for Remain than the over-55s, but there was also a divide between the North and the South and let’s not forget the significant number of traditional Labour voters who either hadn’t bought or hadn’t heard their party leader’s calls to stay.
Over the last few months, the issue of immigration has often been at the fore. However, it certainly wasn’t the only reason that I voted the way I did. It wasn’t even the main reason.
I am in favour of immigration, but it has to be controlled and currently we don’t seem to have any idea of the numbers who are coming into Britain. If I am going to plan a dinner party, the first thing I need to know is how many people I am catering for so I can make sure I have enough food and enough seats. It is simple common sense and yet we have found ourselves in the ludicrous position of finding our education, housing and health services stretched – sometimes to breaking point – because we simply don’t have a handle on the numbers.
I am old enough to remember the 1975 referendum when, as a country, we backed the UK’s continued membership of the European Economic Community. I supported that position too.
It made absolute sense that Britain should enjoy free trade with its European neighbours. However, the EU that we are part of today has become a monster of bureaucracy and with 28 countries all wanting to protect their own interests, it has become an organisation where decision-making is almost impossible.
By being masters of our own destiny we will be able to organise our own trade agreements without having to worry whether the French also want to sell them cheese. That isn’t meant to sound flippant, but for too long we have been hamstrung by the EU. Going forward, any new agreements we make will be tailor-made to our needs. There will be no more unhappy compromises.
In the last few weeks there has been much talk of the scaremongering on the part of the Leave campaign, but there has been just as much idle and dangerous speculation on the part of those who wanted to Remain. They have claimed that by unravelling ourselves from the EU our economy would be irreversibly damaged. They have talked of how our small island nation will become isolated in an increasingly global world. I just don’t buy that.
European manufacturers will still want to sell us cars, we will still import their wine and buy their produce, because that’s the way that business works. If we provide the demand, someone will provide the supply.
When we take stock in a week or a month’s time I suspect the medium to long-term impact will be very little.
The markets will recover and we will emerge from this moment in history brighter and stronger.
With the resignation of David Cameron there is now an element of uncertainty. However, having fought so hard and so vocally to remain in the EU, he couldn’t have led us into this new chapter.
I don’t know whether Boris Johnson is the man for the job and perhaps what we need is the calm and steady hand of Theresa May. Those decisions are for another day, but what I do know is that the EU is no longer fit for purpose and now this is our chance to shape our destiny and give our children and grandchildren hope for a brighter and better future.