The government isn’t about to scrap the pension triple lock, insisted the Prime Minister, which seemingly also scotches the suggestion of a one-year moratorium of the manifesto commitment as a means of paying back some of the cost of Covid. The cost of that commitment to the Treasury is some £4 billion. And comes just weeks after the government committed just over one sixteenth of the funds proposed by the PM’s advisor on how to help young people catch up on the education they’ve missed in the last year. Albeit that the Prime Minister has said the money allocated is just a starter.
Meanwhile the government is under pressure from its own backbenches over planning proposals, intended to build more housing. The protests if successful, will benefit existing property owners; the losers would be those aspiring to get onto the property ladder. A generational divide. Social care has re-emerged as one of the stickiest problems facing ministers. The manifesto commitment is to ensure people don’t have to sell their homes to fund care. Which benefits older voters owning property, less so younger demographics who either don’t own or whose taxes will fund the difference.
Now, this isn’t to say that the government is anti-young people. Nor that there aren’t legitimate arguments against some of the government’s planning proposals. And funding social care is a generational problem that successive governments of every political persuasion have failed to answer. There are plenty of positives the government is taking forward, such as the Kickstart scheme. But, as the analysis of the Lib Dem victory in Chesham and Amersham rumbles on, these are reminders that the challenges for the Conservatives in appealing to voters ahead of the next general election are generational and not just geographical.
Whilst delighted to have knocked down the Red Wall in 2019, the fears of many Conservatives are that the Party and the government are now paying more attention to the new-found gains, at the expense of traditional heartlands. And, like a game of capture the flag, one can’t hope to win if going on the offensive comes at the expense of exposing your flank – in this case opening the door for the likes of the Lib Dems to come knocking on the doors of loyal Tory voters asking what the government has done for them lately.
That’s a legitimate debate, a question of identity politics that could define or redefine the Conservatives for years to come. But the risk of a generational divide is other the identity politics question ministers and party strategists are surely ruminating on – especially when the scale of borrowing over the last year means hard choices will have to be made, creating the potential for ‘haves,’ and ‘have nots.’
It’s no secret young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic – whether through lost or delayed education; lost income because of redundancies or furlough; or by entering a job market far more challenging and turbulent than when we were experiencing record levels of employment just 15 months ago. That’s not to say the last year hasn’t been miserable for older generations, who’ve also experience redundancy, furlough or being in high-risk groups and forced to shield themselves for months. But as we emerge from the crisis and have to pay the bill, it’s the younger members of the workforce and the future members of the labour market that are going to foot the majority of the cost.
Again, this isn’t to suggest for a second that the Conservatives are anti-youth. But the decisions ministers make as we head towards the next general election will help define the political allegiance of younger voters. The challenge for ministers will be to show that levelling up is generational as well as geographical. Failing to achieve that might not irrevocably harm the Party’s electoral chances next time around. But it will make future elections much, much more difficult.
Chris Rogers is Associate Director at iNHouse Communications