“If you are not a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35 you have no brain.” That aphorism, variously attributed to Winston Churchill, US president John Adams, or King Oscar II of Sweden, underscores a “well-established rule”, says John Burn-Murdoch in the FT: “as people grow older, they tend to become more conservative”. This pattern has held “remarkably firm” across Britain’s successive generations – until now. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are following a much more left-wing trajectory than their predecessors. Previous generations would, at age 35, be around five percentage points less conservative than the national average. For millennials, it’s more like 15 points.
This isn’t because of any particular cock-up by the Tories, like Liz Truss’s disastrous premiership – the same pattern holds true in the US. Instead, it’s most likely down to a “cohort effect”: millennials, “shaped by experiences unique to them”, have developed different values to their elders. Having come of age in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, they’re more economically left-wing than their predecessors. This shift will have a massive impact on our politics. Previously, UK millennials and Gen Zs were an “electoral afterthought”, but in the next election they’ll probably cast more votes than baby boomers. So unless the Conservatives come up with a serious offer for them, like more affordable home ownership or childcare, the party will be consigned “to an increasingly distant second place”.