The possible link between the Brexit vote and the Australian election a few days later has exercised a few commentators. Some think there will be no flow-on effects. Some think it will benefit the Coalition. The financial effects are thought to be short-term. Some think the new Britain will want to buy more from us. An occasional comment suggest that this is the end of the world as we have known it. Some seem to think it was all a conspiracy by climate change sceptics.
What fascinated me was the fury of the Remain brigade at the outcome. How dare people fail to listen to those who prophesied doom and destruction if Britain were so presumptuous as to vote to leave! This is the worst example of the foolishness of democracy, and so on. The more-than-somewhat OTT Dana Nutticelli, Climate Botherer, has written a piece in The Guardian to the effect that elderly Brits in voting as they did sacrificed their children and grandchildren. Here is a bit of it.
Youth will bear the brunt of the poor decisions being made by today’s older generations. In last week’s Brexit vote results, there was a tremendous divide between age groups. 73% of voters under the age of 25 voted to remain in the EU, while about 58% over the age of 45 voted to leave.
This generational gap is among the many parallels between Brexit and climate change. A 2014 poll found that 74% of Americans under the age of 30 support government policies to cut carbon pollution, as compared to just 58% of respondents over the age of 40, and 52% over the age of 65.
The problem is of course that younger generations will have to live with the consequences of the decisions we make today for much longer than older generations.
This is pretty silly stuff, especially because of the turnout figures. Guess what they were? Well, the older the voter, the higher the turnout. It might be true that younger voters wanted to Remain, but they spectacularly failed to show up at the polling booth to say so. While 83 per cent of those 65 and older arrived to vote, only 36 per cent of the youngest age-group did. Some of the latter seem now to be furious at the outcome.
It will be some time before we have any clear idea of what caused the result, given that the outcome was 52-48. But three ingredients seem to stand out in what I have been reading, mostly from British sources. The first is a deep-seated feeling among the older voters that what had happened as a result of Britain’s joining the EU was not what they thought was going to happen, and certainly not what they wanted. Britain seemed to have lost the capacity to govern itself, and people in Brussels, whom they had not elected and who were not responsible to them in any form, were telling them, in all sorts of small and inconvenient ways, just what they were to do about this or that aspect of their business, farming and even personal lives.
Their leaders, Conservative and Labour alike, might be telling them that things were good and could only get better, but that was not what we call their ‘lived experience’. Given a chance to express an opinion, they expressed it, loudly and clearly. This applies to older voters because they had memories and some experience of the past. You wouldn’t expect it of the young, because they had no real memory of what it was like before the EU — for them, Britains’s connection to and membership of the EU was the status quo, and they didn’t want it disturbed. In this sense the young were the conservatives, and the old the radicals.
The second was immigration. Membership of the EU increasingly involved the UK in an inability to control its own borders. Yes, it was and is useful to have a new cohort of young people who will work hard and do the things that are needed in Western societies whose age distribution has shifted towards the elderly over the last fifty years. Australia is no different. But, as John Howard memorably proposed at the turn of the new century, when ‘boat people’ were the issue of the day, a country needs to be able to say what its rules are about immigration — and enforce them. If it cannot do that, it is no longer a nation. He was right then as now, and I am sure a large proportion of Brits would say now that their country must be able to control its own borders. This is not Islamophobia, or even xenophobia run wild. It applies to all those, mostly young men, who see the rich Western countries as an opportunity denied to them in their own country, whether it be Poland, Roumania or Syria. All countries that are desirable societies to come to have rules about who they will admit as immigrants. But the EU countries individually have lost that attribute. Angela Merkel’s role here, as the immigrant-welcoming Chancellor of Germany, is hard to over-estimate.
The third was something I have written about recently, the rise of a populist antipathy to ruling elites, including ‘experts’. It seems to have been the case that neither of the parties and their leaders has had any real understanding of the deep-seated feelings within their own society about just what it is like to live in the UK when you have any memory of the past. It seems that the Conservatives are hardly any more popular than Labour, despite their convincing victory in the recent elections, while Labour is having leadership convulsions that may lead soon to a change at the top.
And to jump to our election on Saturday, in which I have already voted, in Townsville, I can detect some of that populist irritation in Australia. There is no enthusiasm for either side. One is voting for the lesser of two evils, however you see it, unless you are a rusted-on Labor or Liberal, and fewer Australians are. I will watch the outcome on Saturday night from the comfort of our hotel room in Mt Isa, having had a look at politicking in that mining city during the day. Mt Isa is the largest urban area in remote Queensland (population: 22,000 or so) and is the major service centre for the far west. It is also the seat of Bob Katter, and I expect him to retain his seat. He and his father have held the seat, with one three-year loss to the ALP, for almost sixty years. Before then it was safe Labor. His father was a Country Party MP, but his son now leads his own Bob Katter Party. My sense of North Queensland, which has about half a million people and a reasonably lively new state movement, is that Independents will do well, and that Glenn Lazarus could well retain his Senate seat.
We will see. I wish I could say that after the election there will be a new sense of reality in Australian politics, whichever party takes government. I can’t see it at the moment.
End-note: Despite Nutticelli, I couldn’t find any significant evidence that antipathy to governments and experts forecasting ‘climate change’ had anything to do with the Brexit outcome. However Joe Romm, familiar to many as a Climate Botherer in the USA, thinks global warming caused the outcome.