The results are in. A quite astonishing 2017 General Election is in the books. A struggling Labour Party led by the “unelectable dinosaur” Jeremy Corbyn came within political inches of overturning a hitherto invincible Conservative Party, and would have been in Number 10 Downing Street if not for an SNP meltdown and the votes of a large and committed voting block: the elderly.
There are ten million people over 65 in the UK, and according to the latest Yougov data, they were three times as likely to vote Tory than Labour.
Even worse for Labour, the elderly are the most committed voters, coming out in force on election day. In the UK there is a sliding scale: the older you are, the more likely you are to vote.
If this situation continues, we are all screwed. The Conservatives are pursuing an agenda of a chaotic Brexit and punishing austerity. This was the background to the incredible energetic youth campaign Labour ran, that bypassed traditional media and inspired millions. As a result, the country is split along generational lines as much as class ones, with the under 47s voting Labour and over 47s voting Conservative.
And yet the retired can be a fertile hunting ground for Labour; the elderly have been under a savage attack for years, with the Tories ferociously cutting elderly care provisions. Their manifesto, described by Tory MP Nigel Evans as “a full frontal assault on our core support” was based around removing the “triple lock” on pensions that guaranteed the elderly’s real income would not fall, ditching winter weather payments and ensured that elderly homeowners would be forced to sell their home if they required medical care in old age- the so-called “dementia tax.”
Quite simply, Labour have to inspire the old as they have the young.
How the elderly are treated in the United Kingdom is a national disgrace. Visiting them in care homes or in private accommodation I have seen the wretched, lonely, sad lives many of them live, forgotten by the society they built which promised to look after them from cradle to grave. Many elderly people spend their lives totally alone with the TV or a copy of The Daily Mail, if they are lucky being overseen by an overworked and underpaid foreigner who they cannot understand. According to Age UK, four million elderly people agree that the TV is their closet friend, and 200 thousand have not had a conversation with family or friends in over a month. Loneliness is a killer, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and many over 65s feel they have been thrown on the scrapheap. It is this that goes a fair way in explaining the strong retired Conservative vote; they live lonely and isolated lives frightened by a steady stream of propaganda about how Corbyn is a secret IRA agent and a threat to national security, cut off from any alternative opinions.
To change this requires two things: leadership willing to make their plight a key issue and activists willing to connect with them and show they care.
How the elderly are treated is a key socialist issue. Are we not trying to create a tolerant, caring society that protects its most vulnerable? And yet Labour are largely ignoring it; in their manifesto there is barely one page devoted to pensioners, who constitute a massive voting block- 18% of the population.
Corbyn should publicly visit nursing homes and charities like Age UK to understand and promote the severity of the problem, which is every bit as serious and pressing as food banks and homelessness. And Labour need a bold new strategy of not leaving anyone behind and to push policies which help enrich the lives of the elderly and promote intergenerational contact and help foster a society that respects and celebrates the over 65s. Grassroots activists must make contact with the older generation and
Above all, Corbyn must hammer home the point that the Conservatives are attacking the elderly and outline exactly how Labour will protect them. He can even borrow some populist rhetoric about the greatest generation who fought fascism and built Britain being cast aside by the Tories. This should be done not simply as a tactic of picking up votes and cutting out the Tories’ legs from under them by splitting their core constituency, but because it is the right and moral thing to do.
Nigel Evans believes the elderly did not turn out to vote for his party last week because the Tories “shot ourselves in the head” by conducting a “full-frontal assault on our core support” and that the only thing missing from the manifesto was “compulsory euthanasia for the over 70s.” Will Labour be shrewd enough to pick up the pieces? Corbyn can energize the elderly as he did the young.
It was not written in stone that young people are apathetic. It is not written in stone that the elderly will always vote Tory, especially when they are kicking them in the teeth. Those who say the old will never vote Labour are the same people who said the young would never vote.
People said Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable, but if Labour just splits the elderly vote and chips away at the Tories’ base he will be the next Prime Minister. To do that he needs to honestly and very publicly position himself as the defender of the elderly and energize the over 65s with the same zeal as he did with the youth.