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Compulsory voting — the solution to our gerontocratic crisis?

Young people have been written out of British politics: it’s time to let them back in

An artist who goes by the name “gaylussite” has written the definitive scripture in the Britain Hates Young People Twitter canon.

Titled “The Triumph of Janet”, the name he attaches to the average member of the boomer generation, the essay describes how and why the Conservative Party has abandoned growth and aspiration — especially for younger Britons — in favour of economic stagnation and generous subsidies for older generations, facilitating our national decay.

The “how” is straightforward: limited housebuilding, triple-lock pensions, an increase in taxes and student loan repayment interest rates and a refusal of the political order to consider, even for a second, the advancement of young people. The “why” is similarly simple: Britain is getting older, and those who lie on the far end of the ageing scale are more likely to vote. Not losing their rational self-interest in their older age, they also tend to vote for political parties that represent their interests.

The opposition parties have noticed this too. It has inspired the Lib Dems to become the full party of NIMBY, winning “blue wall” Chesham and Amersham and losing younger members in their droves. Labour say they are committed to more housebuilding, but are viscerally opposed to anyone who might actually build any homes, describing every proposal to reform the planning system as a “developers’ charter” and the greedy face of capitalism.

All of this turned the blog post into the most depressing collection of graphs since that liminal era of medicalised purgatory where a legion of Twitter nerds posted daily forecasts on the number of people who were expected to die from choking on viral fluid flooding their lungs. James — who writes the “Himbonomics” blog — has displayed how much young people spend on housing, how little boomers spend on housing and how many more of them own a house.

After my third reread and my fourth vodka, I was enthused to add to the lexicon of propositions to dislodge this turgid political congestion. To help clear the blockage and repave our path to prosperity, we must get young people to vote. Doing this will ensure that young people’s interests will be taken seriously by political parties, who currently do not feel obliged to cater to our cohort, even as a rising tide of frustrated younger Britons leave London and start to add leftish pressure to the blue wall. But this strategy will be difficult to achieve, because young people do not like to vote.

The typical juvenile solution to this problem is to afford children voting rights at 16, which is a terrible idea because while very few 18-year-olds are functioning adults with work and responsibilities, next to zero 16-year-olds can be said to be in the same position.

Record numbers of young workers are planning to emigrate

The solution that I am proposing is mandatory voting. The policy has mixed branding. It’s the law in well-known non-free disaster land North Korea, where just one candidate is on the ballot paper, but it’s also on the books in Australia, which is generally considered to be a free and liberal country. Australians are hit with a $20 fine if they do not vote; 92 per cent of those enrolled turned out to cast their ballots in the last federal elections. Australia also boasts a political environment that champions economic growth. Its GDP per capita is over $10,000 higher than Britain’s and it ranks 12th on the Heritage Foundation’s 2022 Index of Economic Freedom. 

Faced with a population that is forced to conduct its civic electoral duty, Australian politicians have greater incentives to direct the nation towards prosperity, ensuring that they can attract the votes of younger cohorts.

In Britain, where the political system is set up to reward the elderly, politicians produce policies that expand the vast gap between the average wage and the average cost of a home. Plenty have had enough. As the reality of Britain’s low-growth situation sets in — nefariously termed “cost of living” issues, suggesting that the only solution to our struggle is to keep costs down, not make people wealthier — several aspirational young workers have decided that not only are they giving up on buying a house in London or the Southeast, they’re abandoning Britain altogether.

Record numbers are planning to emigrate. Australia, Canada and the US top the list of preferred destinations, with searches for Australian visas rocketing by 670 per cent in April. We’re told that the “cost of living” is a “global issue” and that everyone is being affected by it, but Americans and Australians are benefiting from lower taxation and greater economic growth. Those lucky enough to have Bondi Beach in their sights are enjoying a growth rate of 4.1 per cent in 2022. The IMF said that Australian GDP is projected to be 6.6 per cent larger by the end of the year than it was in 2019. Britain is facing a recession.

When Labour almost defeated Theresa May’s pointless ministry in 2017, turnout hit a 25-year high. This was boosted in part by young people, with more than half of those aged 18-24 voting, a 16 percentage points jump on the 2015 Cameron victory. But despite that rise, the Tories enjoyed a five percentage point rise in their share of the vote between 2015 and 2017. They added another percentage point in 2019. The bulk of that rise came from the two oldest age groups (65-74, 75+). Since 2010, the Conservative Party has rewarded this voter base with generous policies (such as the pension triple lock) and inaction elsewhere, predominantly housebuilding and infrastructural development. They have retained their grip on power because they don’t need to bother attracting those who are not rewarded by the gerontocracy.

Voting is the mechanism by which governments can ensure that policy broadly matches what people want. This mechanism is currently failing, with plenty of government offerings only reflecting the desires of the oldest portion of the population.

For example, just one-third (34 per cent) of those under 50 want to keep the triple lock pension protection, but it can’t be scrapped because six-tenths of the high-voting over-50s support its retention.

Enforced voting might fix this gross imbalance

Something has to change. Even after all of the social and economic sacrifices of the pandemic, where young people set aside their lifestyles and their livelihood opportunities to prevent the spread of a disease that was highly unlikely to affect them, the pension’s triple-lock protection from inflation has been suspended for just one year. The TUC slammed the decision to suspend it at all, urging the government to reverse the decision, highlighting that it could cost pensioners up to £500 a year. I imagine plenty of under 40s saw that press release and thought, “that’s less than half of my monthly rent.”

Enforced voting might be the mechanism that fixes this gross imbalance, putting young people’s interests front and centre. It would raise younger voting rates in line with the already high-voting boomer portions of the population, putting entrenched NIMBY conservatism at risk from the younger Britons leaving cities with hopes of settling down.

The sitting government can’t be expected to push for a change without the enforced pressure of mandatory votes. Even with the ginormous majority and polling lead they had after 2019, no political effort was put into shifting the narrative in favour of economic growth. Beleaguered by a polling massacre and recent local election struggles, hopes that they will shift to a pro-growth position have been all but totally extinguished. 

If the threats of dire economic forecasts won’t move the government’s position, perhaps the inescapable powers of an enforced demos will force them into dislodging the gerontocracy. Time is running out for the current generation, many of whom are losing hope in establishing a prosperous life in Britain. It’s a crisis, and it needs a radical solution. Mandatory voting could do it.

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