Grant Woodward: Brexit is Baby Boomers' ultimate betrayal

Older generation's vote to leave will unleash long-term problems they won't be around to endure.

Votes are sorted into Remain, Leave and Doubtful trays as ballots are counted during the EU Referendum. Credit: PA.

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.

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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 for their family 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 struggling 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 immgrants. 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 artificial inflation of the property market through the purchase of rentals to top up their final salary pensions and build a tidy nest egg. Of course not. Perish the thought.

It is just one of the 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 to crucial questions they didn’t want to confront.

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 we had the infamous Ukip poster showing a sea of brown faces marching into Britain. Hold on, I thought leaving the EU was meant to keep Eastern Europeans away, where did these other ethnic groups come into it?

Besides, immigration into this country from outside the EU is greater than that from within it. Part of the reason for that is the mass influx of workers from Commonwealth countries in the post-war period when we were crying out for them to fill jobs. In so far as putting some sort of cap on the generations that have followed, that ship has pretty much sailed.

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 a 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. Whilst 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.