The Garrulous Jay – Generation Games

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Just when we thought the summer had nothing much to offer other than wet weather, sport and Glastonbury, Rishi Sunak delighted us all with a surprise General Election.

We can now look forward to policy commitments, manifestos, debates and five weeks of 24/7 punditry to punctuate the long empty hours between SZA leaving the Pyramid Stage on Sunday 30th June and the first match on Centre Court the following day, and to distract us from the latest results from the Round of 16 at the Euros… What a relief!

This week I have therefore been contemplating the possibility that two recent policy announcements from the two main contenders to form the next government might serve as a metaphor for their philosophies and their prospects.

On Tuesday we had the Conservative Party announcement of what’s been dubbed Triple Lock Plus. This would effectively give pensioners a personal income tax allowance that would rise in line with the existing ‘triple lock’ on the State pension. In effect, this would ensure that those whose sole source of income is the State Pension would never pay income tax.

There is a compelling demographic driver behind this: the Tories understand both that more old people vote than young people, and that they have a greater propensity to vote Conservative.

No wonder Rishi Sunak says it “demonstrates we are on the side of pensioners”.

Meanwhile, last Saturday saw S’Keir Starmer confirm that 16 and 17 year-olds could be given the right to vote if Labour win the next election. As the man says, “If you can work, if you can pay tax, if you can serve in your armed forces, then you ought to be able to vote”. Presumably this also applies if you choose to do none of the above.

The policy would add about 1.5 million people to the electorate and, guess what, younger people tend to vote Labour, so again political demographics are at play here.

One can see how this segues directly into the debate around pensions policy. The pay-as-you-go system whereby today’s workers fund today’s pensioners is not especially well understood.

By adding 1.5 million people who are just joining the workforce to the voting population, the Sacred Cow status of the universal State pension might be challenged, as politicians seek to curry favour with younger voters.

“Why should a hard-working 20 year-old pay tax to put money in the pocket of a 75 year-old millionaire?”, you might hear such a politician ask.

But, to revert to my original point about the metaphorical value of these two policies, it strikes me that one is focused primarily on the past and the other on the future. One targets people who are largely past their working lives, the other potential voters about to start theirs.

That begs an interesting final question: if there is an age below which you’re too young to vote, might there also be an age after which you’re too old to vote?