The Blog

Teenage Dirtbags: Are Pensioners Really Better Placed to Make Big Decisions Than Feckless Youths?

This week saw Nicky Morgan, the current Education Secretary, exhort young folk to turn out to vote in the EU referendum. Her fear is that if millennials take their usual insouciant approach on 23 June to their democratic rights and duties we will vote to leave the Union. So although it all felt a bit odd and nannyish coming from Ms Morgan ("the generation of Instagram, easyJet and eBay"? Really?), she was making a vitally important contribution.

Underpinning her argument is a powerful point: it is the younger generation who will be most affected if Britain opts to leave the European Union. They will have to deal with the cultural, social, economic and other outcomes for decades. And yet given the propensity of voters of pension age to turn out (and to hold incomprehensibly strong views on the EU) the decision is likely to be influenced very heavily by much older folk. Is it right that a decision with such long-term and far-reaching consequences should be made by people who in some cases, bluntly, may barely live to see the consequences - and certainly will be much less affected for much less time? Is it reasonable that my teenage daughter can have no say in this event that will have a seismic impact on the rest of her life, and instead have her fate decided by her already comfortable, post-working age, septuagenarian and octogenarian grandparents?

That prompts a bigger question: why do we allow pensioners to vote at all? It is now pretty much received wisdom that pandering to the older electorate is skewing and damaging policy-making in Britain, and all over the world. So in the UK, for example, we have a 'triple lock' on pensions, which in the past has meant that the state pension has risen faster than average earnings, imposing an ever-heavier burden on workers, and which in effect takes money out of the pockets of other benefit recipients. In the US spending on entitlements directed largely at the retired is rising inexorably, as any viewer of House of Cards knows all too well. Older generations in rich nations everywhere benefit in similar ways, and also in other areas including for example policies relating to property-owning. This fuels a real sense of bitterness in 'Generation Rent' - and frankly in my generation too. And this resentment will eventually need to be addressed.

There is a very simple solution to all this: let's simply stop pensioners voting. In fact, let's reverse an old rallying cry and say simply 'no representation without taxation' - and by that I mean direct taxation, since everyone, even the under 18s, and every nationality pays indirect taxes such as sales taxes. History is on my side, since democracy basically got cracking when Parliaments were called to give a voice to landowners and merchants who were being taxed by the Monarch. Fast forward to today and would it really be unreasonable to apply a similar test, limiting the electorate to direct taxpayers and potential taxpayers? Would giving votes only to the working age population have a beneficial or an adverse impact on policy-making? I am pretty confident I know the answer.

Of course this will never happen. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas, after all, and nor do the turkey-necked. And maybe it's unreasonable and inconsistent anyway, not least since many pensioners pay direct taxes too. But something has to give if we are to address the issues of the present and the challenges of the future. If we want visionary, long-term, policy-making and a thriving, successful UK we need to stop being bossed around by those whose views are rooted firmly in some bygone age. And when it comes to the EU referendum I hope every single voter will take account of the needs and the hopes of future generations, not the prejudices and fears of the past.