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Britain’s young people may covet socialism, but don’t expect a revolution anytime soon

Britain’s young people may covet socialism, but don’t expect a revolution anytime soon
A report by the Institute for Economic Affairs has revealed that 67% of young Brits would like to live in a country that embraces socialism. At first glance this may seem surprising, but we shouldn’t read too much into it.

According to the new IEA report, just over two-thirds of 18-34-year-olds in the UK would like to live in a country that has a socialist economic system. The startling report also reveals that the majority of young people would like to see the nationalisation of major industries, end private-sector involvement in the NHS and blame capitalism for Britain’s housing crisis. 

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The author of the report, Dr Kristian Niemietz, warned that “these results show that ‘Millennial Socialism’ is not just social media hype, and it was not just a passing fad which ended with Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation.” 

Now, I have a number of problems with this report. We all know that younger people are attracted to utopian ideals; it has ever been such. But there is also a lot of evidence available that shows these ideals dissipate once we enter middle age. Before we get into that, though, let us first deal with why young people are attracted to socialism. 

To start with, socialism is a far easier sell than capitalism. The principle of sharing wealth and working for the good of all humanity is a noble idea and very attractive. It is no wonder young people, who are more likely to see life in black and white, are attracted to it. 

Socialism is also a sexier brand than capitalism. Just think of how many Che Guevara T-shirts you see; yet virtually none of the young people wearing them has any idea what Guevara did, or they would not be wearing them. They just think he was left-wing, hip, and cool; it is a triumph of marketing over education. Can you really imagine young people wandering around our cities wearing T-shirts with Margaret Thatcher’s or Ronald Reagan’s face on them?    

The young are also more impressionable. They are fed a daily diet of left-wing, so-called ‘celebrities’ publicly espousing their commitment to socialism, even though this is mostly disingenuous virtue-signalling claptrap. These ‘celebrities’ do it because they think it makes them look like they care. The ‘cult of celebrity’ and the importance of what celebrities say has been exacerbated by social media, which has given these pampered celebs a greater reach into the minds of the impressionable young.   

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Then there is the mainstream news. A constant drip of how the NHS is on the brink of collapse and how the world is teetering on the edge of a climate catastrophe is beamed into our houses almost every evening. This might explain why the report found that 75% of the respondents agreed that climate change is a specifically capitalist problem. I suppose they are not aware that the biggest pollutant on the planet is communist China. But this is a wider problem. Greta Thunberg, climate activist and champion of the younger generation, freely barracks the leaders of the free world, and is beamed across the airwaves; rarely do we hear about her views on China.

Finally, we have the UK’s education system, which is clearly geared towards left-wing ideals, and has been for many years. Indeed, there have been numerous studies that have shown there is a left-wing bias in the teaching and lecturing professions. And as there are more graduates in the UK than ever before – the product of New Labour’s aim to have 50% of 18-year-olds attend university – it should come as no surprise that most young people have socialist leanings. This trend is also repeated across the Atlantic, with only 49% of 18-34-year-old Americans viewing capitalism in a positive light.

Although the IEA report is a useful piece of research, I think the claim that there could be a radical leftward shift in politics is somewhat hyperbolic. The biggest flaw for me is that it only polled people up to the age of 34, which is before most people shift to the right. For example, following the last general election, the pollster YouGov found that “the tipping point – the age at which a voter is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour – is now 39, down from 47 at the last election.” This data tends to support the traditional theory that people abandon socialism as they enter middle-age.

Most people move ideologically to the right when they begin to accrue responsibilities. Granted, this drift is happening later nowadays, as people struggle to get on the housing ladder; but once they purchase their first own home, start paying taxes, begin to have children of their own, and have to start thinking about things like pensions, then reality kicks in. 

This happens to even the most ardent left-wingers. Just take a look at the last Labour government as evidence of this. Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, John Reid, Alistair Darling and Jack Straw, to name but a few, were all members of far-left groups when they were young, but they all grew out of it, just as many of the young people cited in this report will, too.

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I also do not believe that this report offers those on the centre-right anything to worry about. At the last general election, Labour had a lead of 43% amongst 18-24-year-olds and a 24% advantage among 25-34-year-olds. Yet, as the British Election Study noted, “younger people are less likely to vote than older people, and turnout rises as people get older.” That is why Boris Johnson won that election with a landslide. And if young people were not enthused to go out and vote for Jeremy Corbyn, then who would get them to the polling station? It is one thing to have left-wing views, but if you are not prepared to express them at the ballot box, then they are redundant.   

This is also the reason why it is wrong for the report to compare the young people’s support for socialism to the older generation’s backing of Brexit: older people go out and vote in their droves, the young do not. Indeed, the older generation helped achieve Brexit through their engagement with the political process; the young will not achieve socialist society as long as they do not vote in large numbers. Moreover, we must also consider that people live longer these days, which ensures that those older people with Brexit-supporting views will be sticking around a lot longer to make their votes count, regardless of how much this upsets some young activists.

So, in all, I would not be holding my breath for any socialist revolution or the manning of the barricades any time soon. Young people may hold left-wing views, as they always have, but research shows that they generally do little about them. The reality is that most young people are just doing what young people do. They go out, party, have a great time, and are generally not overly concerned by politics. And who can blame them? I wish I were in my twenties again. Moreover, research shows that most will grow out of holding these socialist ideas and gradually drift rightwards with age.  

As for the IEA report? Well the headline figures may be shocking to some, but once you think about it, they are really not that surprising – and nor do they really matter.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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