Thursday, May 30, 2013

Generation Boris

June 1, 2013

A group of 17- and 18-year-olds assembled in their lunch hour at a diverse London school offers a cross-section of political views. Some are more left-wing than others; some are more apathetic. But they are not as different as they seem. When pushed to describe their politics, they agree that the state’s primary role is to protect individual freedom. For them, social and moral causes such as gay rights and sex equality loom larger than things like welfare and health. Asked whether any had joined recent protests against government spending cuts, they respond with raised eyebrows, laughter and effusive denials. One admits to going, “but only for a look.” The pavement-pounding youth of past decades this is not.

“Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal has no heart; and any man who is over 30 and is not a conservative has no brains.” So Winston Churchill, among others, is supposed to have observed. Young Britons are still liberal today. But not in the way that Churchill meant, or in the common sense of the word. Nor, probably, will they grow out of their liberalism.

The young are less likely than their elders to consider themselves part of any particular religion, less likely to join a political party or a trade union and, according to the long-running British Social Attitudes survey (BSA), less likely to have a “high or very high opinion” of the armed forces. As far as they are concerned, people have a right to express themselves by what they consume and how they choose to live.

Predictably, that translates into a tolerance for social and cultural difference. Polls show that the young are more relaxed than others about drugs, sex, alcohol, euthanasia and non-traditional family structures. They dislike immigration, but not as strongly as do their elders. And they are becoming ever more liberal. The BSA has tracked attitudes for three decades. It shows that the young are now far more tolerant of homosexuality, for example, than were previous generations at the same age.