• The Great Generational Divide

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    13 October 2017

    I attended our party conference this year. I think it is fair to say that it did not go entirely to plan. The Prime Minister’s speech will not be forgotten any time soon – interrupted as it was by a prankster and falling letters from the slogan behind all accompanied by a serious case of laryngitis and prolonged coughing. An hour long address under these circumstances was quite an ordeal but the PM to her great credit took it all in her stride. It would have been remarkable if these misfortunes had gone unnoticed by the press but I have been left reflecting on the fact that in the modern world of reporting it is too often the elements with the least substance that command the most coverage. The thrust of what she had to say was largely ignored by the media in favour of the prankster, a cough and falling letters. And this was unhelpful for us all – because what party leaders in general and Prime Ministers in particular have to say at their party conference matters. Theresa May’s speech was to a large extent about young people. Currently Conservatives and Labour command a roughly equal share of the vote with the Conservatives trailing amongst the young and Labour amongst the older generation. The pivot point is around the age of 45. This can be of no satisfaction to either party – Conservatives worry about older voters departing the mortal coil. Labour worry that younger voters are of course ageing with changes in political leaning. Young people today are often frustrated and it is not difficult to see why. When I grew up as a young man my costs of going to university were met by a grant that I never had to repay. I and my friends despite fairly ordinary salaries had a real opportunity to own a home of our own. Times have changed – university education provision has increased dramatically – it is now not just the preserve of the few but of the many and it has opened up dramatically to the offspring of less wealthy parents. This greater access has come at a cost – paid through loans. So to assist the PM announced that we will be increasing the salary threshold so students don’t have to start to repay until they are earning over £25,000 a year – any earning level below this and they will not be expected to repay at that time. She also confirmed that we will be spending a further £10 billion on Help to Buy which assists first time buyers to get on the housing ladder. Plus £2 billion more towards building new affordable housing. Expect more on these important themes going forward. Any party seeking to govern for the many not the few will have to appeal right across the age spectrum. For those who listened to what the Prime Minister had to say in her conference speech will know that this is a challenge that she is taking especially seriously.