25th May 2021. Politics | Dylan

Rewarding older voters works; Dylan, of course

Welcome to Just Two Things, which I try to publish daily, five days a week. Some links may also appear on my blog from time to time. Links to the main articles are in cross-heads as well as the story.

#1: Rewarding older voters works


I try not to be too parochial here, but one of the myths of British politics at the moment is that the British Labour party has “lost the working class”. Flipchart Rick has rounded up a lot of the data; and what they show is that a group of older, retired, non-graduate homeowners in constituencies that used to return Labour MPs have stopped voting Labour.

Looking at 2019 election data, where Labour did badly, Rick comments:

It’s retired people that swung the vote for the Conservatives. There are a lot of them and a larger proportion of them vote than in younger age cohorts. As Marios points out, after adjusting for turnout, the median age of voters at the last general election was 53.

What these income figures don’t tell us is the impact of housing costs. Around three-quarters of those aged over 65 own their own homes outright. They may be income-poor but they are asset-rich. Without the need to spend on housing costs, their state and occupational pensions can leave them quite comfortably off, especially if they live in areas where the cost of living is low. As the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission found, once you factor in housing costs, pensioner household incomes are slightly better than those of working-age people.

Although this chart is a little complicated, just follow the pensioner lines in each pair, for poorer pensioners at the bottom, median pensioners in the middle, and richer pensioners at the the top, and compare their incomes to those of working age.

There are some observations about this, some of which may extend beyond British politics. I’m sure the strategists in the Labour Party have finally caught up with this by now, although the signs weren’t good a couple of weeks ago.

One: In an ageing society, rewarding older voters—because they’re also more likely to vote—is an effective political strategy. In the UK, this has been done by the “triple lock”, which basically ensures that retired people get above-inflation increases in benefits. This is of course not connected, in any way, to the rise in levels of in-work poverty in the UK or the rise in levels of child poverty.

Two: the notion of the “working class” in common use largely represents the types of people whose sectors were destroyed in the industrial carnage of the 1980s. Actual working people are still more likely to vote Labour than Conservative.

Three: One of the effects of this destruction has been that some of these former Labour towns have been largely denuded of young people, because there’s no work there. (This is a reflection of the lack of any meaningful industrial or regional strategy in the UK). These towns aren’t actually working class any more.

Four: Although I’ve not seen this has been suggested anywhere, it’s possible that these older homeowners own their homes because of the 1980s Conservative strategy of selling off publicly-owned housing at knock-down prices. It could be a long-term effect of the so-called ‘right to buy’—which was designed to create a new class of Conservative voters. 

If you have any interest in British politics, Rick’s post is definitely worth reading. 

(H/t Joe Ballantyne)

#2: Dylan, of course


I’ve been looking, unsuccessfully, for the right article to mark Dylan’s 80th birthday. The music writer Richard Williams, whose music blog The Blue Moment is essential reading, has come to my rescue.

He shared yesterday a picture done by the great illustrator Ralph Steadman which was commissioned as a magazine cover when Dylan played Earl’s Court in 1978. It’s constructed from Dylan’s lyrics. 

(Dylan by Steadman, via Richard Williams)


If you are enjoying Just Two Things, please do send it on to a friend or colleague.