Neither of us has a Facebook account. Perhaps we are just too old-fashioned to be excited about sharing intimate information with our friends and relations. In any case, my fingers aren’t nimble enough to type out text messages with the same ease and speed as younger people.
We are British-born, white, grandparents in our mid-seventies. This means that we are members of the social group that voted most heavily to leave the EU in the 2016 Referendum. Now that the truth is starting to emerge about the invasive actions of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the leave campaigns, we can see that, if we had been on Facebook, we would have been bombarded with carefully targeted messages aimed at inducing us to vote against staying in the EU.
I am certain that such messages would not have changed our minds. However, the referendum results show that the leave campaigns succeeded in inducing many grandmothers and grandfathers to abandon their deep-rooted instinctive behaviour of supporting what their children and grandchildren see as being best for their own future. Instead, they were distracted by appeals to nostalgia and a narrow sense of nationalism, alarming threats of vast migrant invasions and suggestions that most of our ills could be blamed on the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. The complacent remain campaign did little to challenge the validity of these messages.
As a consequence, we have ended up with the incongruous – and ethically questionable – situation in which older voters have determined the shape of the long-term future in which their children and grandchildren will have to grow up, go to school, work and live for the rest of their lives. Given that the lion’s share of young people voted to remain in Europe, it seems awfully unfair that they should find themselves deprived by their grandparents of the future that they really want. The injustice seems even greater when you think that almost half of the country’s under-40’s are minors, not entitled to vote, while all members of the older generations can vote till they drop down dead!
We very much hope that, if there is a People’s Vote on Britain’s future in Europe, many voters of our generation will think twice and see this as a chance to throw their support behind what the younger members of their families really want. This should come naturally for grandparents who, like us, dote on our children and grandchildren and think that it is right that they should have the same opportunities and freedoms as those that we enjoyed. We must listen to what they seek for their future and respect their views next time we vote.
Above all, our deepest desire is that, like the two of us, our young should be able to pass their whole lives in peace. My father spent almost ten years of his life fighting for our country in two long world wars – essentially European wars – and my wife’s father was killed shortly after the end of WW II when his ship was sunk by a lingering mine. Sadly, history shows how very fragile peace has always been in Europe. The European Union’s greatest achievement has been to nurture and sustain peace throughout our lifetimes, to the extent that most of us now take for granted that it will be like this for ever. This is naïve in the extreme. It is vital for the future stability and security of our region that we remain fully engaged in all the Union’s processes that contribute to building peace and trust between its member countries. To do otherwise is to heighten the risk that our adorable little grandchildren will find themselves caught up in future conflicts that would ruin their lives.
We cannot bear to think of such a horrendous fate, but the stresses, strains and distrust created by the Brexit process are making it all the more likely.