Rebuilding Parents’ Respect for their Children’s Choices
On 23rd June, British voters were asked whether they wished to leave or to remain in the European Union.
This simple question ignited passions in our normally tranquil land at a time when we had no obvious quarrel with the EU. The murder of Jo Cox shocked everyone. Xenophobia swept across a country that prides itself on its tolerance.
The EU referendum process has split the fabric of British society. Deep divergences threaten the integrity of the Union. Long-time friendships have ended as parties found themselves on different sides of the voting fence. Most worryingly, families that had lived in harmony have been scarred as parents and children, brother and sisters, took opposing stands. Lots of people still live in fear of violence and thuggery.
Looking at how people voted, the most striking differences related to their age. Thus a massive 90% of the over-65s actually voted, with more than 60% committing themselves to “leave”. About two thirds of the under-50s chose to vote but almost two thirds of them (or an amazing 80% of women aged between 18 and 24) opted to “remain”. Strangely, unlike in the Scottish referendum, 16 and 17 year olds could not vote.
All eyes at the moment are on the immediate impact of Brexit on the British economy, market access and migration. What is badly missing from the current discourse is a recognition that what is important is not the rising price of tea today or of a foreign holiday next spring. The big issue is how the decision to stay in or out of the EU will impact on our children and grand-children throughout their life-times.
The weight of the older voters tipped the referendum verdict in favour of “leave”. However, it is the young people – the under-50 voters – who overwhelmingly voted to “remain”, acting not just for themselves but also for millions of younger boys and girls. It is they who will bear the consequences of the voting behaviour of their elders for the rest of their lives.
This looks patently unjust and must be corrected through rebuilding mutual trust and respect within families and communities in which age has never before been such a divisive factor.
No doubt older people voted one way or the other in all sincerity, reflecting their strongly-held views of what “remaining” or “leaving” would mean for them during their remaining years. What is curious is that so many people who have devoted their lives, energy and money to ensuring a decent future for their offspring supported an outcome that effectively prevents their daughters, sons and grandchildren from achieving their expressed hopes and aspirations. To put it bluntly, they have inadvertently robbed their own children of the future they said they wanted.
The time has come to explore how to end this blatant unfairness while healing the wounds that the Brexit process sadly opened up in families and communities. This process of healing has to be built, family by family, on the natural concept of older individuals quietly reassuming their instinctive role of supporting their younger dependents in attaining their goals in life.
This is not a matter of inviting older people who voted to deny their feelings about migrants, markets or bureaucrats. We are simply suggesting that they reflect on what it really means to put “family first” in the Brexit context, and that they find ways of signalling their re-found respect for the judgement made by the young.