Generation Boris

A fascinating article at the Economist:

Young Britons are classical liberals: as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.

More than two-thirds of people born before 1939 consider the welfare state “one of Britain’s proudest achievements”. Less than one-third of those born after 1979 say the same. According to the BSA, members of Generation Y are not just half as likely as older people to consider it the state’s responsibility to cover the costs of residential care in old age. …

“Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last,” says Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, a pollster. All age groups are becoming more socially and economically liberal. But the young are ahead of the general trend. They have a more sceptical view of state transfers, even allowing for the general shift in attitudes (see first chart).

Polling by YouGov shows that those aged 18 to 24 are also more likely than older people to consider social problems the responsibility of individuals rather than government. They are deficit hawks (see second chart). They care about the environment, but are also keen on commerce: more supportive of the privatisation of utilities, more likely to reject government attempts to ban branding on cigarette packets and more likely to agree that Tesco, Britain’s supermarket giant, “has only become so large by offering customers what they want”.

A belief in economic and social liberalism is only sensible. Keep the Government out of both business and the bedroom.

Young Britons’ broad liberalism, their suspicion of state interventions of most varieties, not only contrasts with the views of their elders. It also makes them unusual internationally. Britons between 15 and 35 are more relaxed about the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis than are young people in the EU as a whole. Another Eurobarometer study conducted in 2011 showed that Britons in that age group were more likely to have set up their own business than their counterparts in any other large European country.

Setting up your own business is one of the best things you can do. Of course you may fail, but there is no reward without risk.

As yet, there is little sign any of this is permeating mainstream politics. The two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, broadly adhere to the conventional right-left divide (with economic liberalism on one side and social liberalism on the other).

So who can appeal to the growing number of young Britons?

A mainstream politician could yet tap into it. Speaking to young people from different backgrounds and parts of the country, from the engaged to the apathetic, your correspondent often asked if any politicians appealed to them. The reaction was strikingly uniform: silence, then contemplation, then a one-word answer—“Boris”—before a flood of agreement: “Oh yeah, I’d vote for .” The chaotic, colourful mayor of London, a rare politician who transcends his Tory identity by melding social and economic liberalism, appears to have Britain’s libertarian youth in the bag. The 2020 election beckons.

Boris does transcend the normal divide. People like him, for being human.

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