Wednesday, 13 November 2019

“Are pensioners to blame for brexit?” – A personal view by an enraged EU citizen by Erwin Schaefer

 “Are pensioners to blame for brexit?” – A personal view by an enraged EU citizen

You’ve heard this before: ‘The older generation is responsible for brexit, they voted to leave.’ You may also have heard this: ‘The younger generation is responsible for brexit; they did not bother to vote.’ Both generalisations are obviously incorrect and annoying to those misrepresented. We can see on every march, on every campaign event, at any leafleting street stall, how many silver-surfers are actively opposed to breaking up our relationship with our European neighbours.

It is likely to be worse still for older pro-EU activists in areas regarded as ‘leave-supporting’. But even in locations exceeding 70-75% this still means that one out of four or five of those who actually voted chose ‘remain’ across all age groups. How do they feel being lazily, and incorrectly, labelled?  Of course, this goes both ways – London is regarded as strong pro-EU territory but 1.5 million voters still opted the other way.

The younger generation has over the last three years jumped at the chance to brush off the accusations of apathy and indifference – be it through political engagement, campaigning at concerts and events and a whole new ecological dimension, based on the realisation of a climate emergency.  Perhaps not every campaign and protest step taken has turned out to be flawless, nevertheless there’s an engaging energy-flow transcending topics ranging from the climate crisis via social injustice to free movement and an internationalist outlook. And they make sure they are visible on social media.

And how is the older generation being portrayed in the media? There are the odd news stories, bordering on quaint quirkiness in their reporting; about grandmothers being ‘exposed’ as secretly chalking antibrexit messages. The endearing impression in the visual media still remains the image of a cloth-capped gent or a scarf-wearing lady talking in a regional accent about how ‘we will take back control’; with all other nuances of views conveniently ignored.

But hasn’t the older generation only itself to blame for this sorry state of affairs? If statistics are anything to go by, ‘We, the Elders’ had the highest leave-vote ratio in the referendum of any age group. And how much effective energy have ‘We, the Elders’ invested into changing the perception of us as a stubborn, obstinate age group?

At this point we could usefully add some observations along with some empathy. The older generation does have something that younger generations are still in the process of acquiring: a potential for broken dreams, combined with the challenges of advancing years. The austerity decade has had a profound effect on all segments of society, accentuating problems with precarious life-planning by people already struggling to stay afloat to keep their self-respect intact.  Experiences such as these tend to affect middle-aged or older people disproportionally if their options keep diminishing at the same time. In my own 20s I had the energy to make a new start in a new country. Now, in my 60s, I can understand the resentment by people who feel their struggles to feel valued and respected to be under threat. Civic pride is easily eroded with constant media exposure to alleged, or indeed real, incidents of a society in crisis with the accompanying blame-game and appeal to the ‘strong’ personality to make everything right again.

It is possible to be a proud and engaged citizen of a great country and still have an open internationalist outlook, while acknowledging the challenges faced by society. Evidence for this can be found across Europe. Sadly, it is not easy to recreate such a mindset once it’s severely damaged. And how would this be done, given the media landscape responsible for much of the damage?

I conclude that a generational blame-game is unhelpful in our political circumstances. Emphasising a path forward based on green ideas, a Green New Deal, resisting austerity- and encouraging a confident internationalist outlook – all embodied in the Green Party Manifesto – might be the one sensible way forward, in a confident and cooperative partnership as a proud member of the European Union. Done sensibly, with empathy and understanding, giving people a chance to re-evaluate their choice without being labelled, and promoting policies that empower rather than disempower, this approach would have a chance to bring together all affected communities instead of setting them off against each other.

(Erwin Schaefer – West Central London Green Party secretary and membership officer) 28 August 2019

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