The Guardian has some interesting poll data relating to the upcoming royal nuptials later this week. Among the headlines are the discovery that 63% of respondents thought the country would be worse off if the monarchy was abolished, and 67% that it remained relevant in modern Britain. For me, the most striking points are firstly that a majority of respondents in the 18-24 age group were planning definitely to watch the event on TV, and secondly that 60% thought the monarchy improved Britain’s image in the world today, against just 2% who thought the opposite. I’m planning to write separately about the ‘soft power’ significance of our peculiar institution, but I thought it worth mentioning here.
Wedding interest among the young is perhaps surprising; the 18-24 age group is hardly known for its blind adherence to traditionalism. Perhaps it is a sign that the monarchy has a strong future, with young people, yet to abandon idealism and embrace a cynical view of the world, identifying with the telegenic young couple. Or perhaps another finding from the poll can explain the interest. 75% of respondents agreed that the wedding would cheer Britain up. Since the start of the recession, inflation, rising house prices, rising student debt, cuts to pension schemes, cuts to education spending, and cuts to incidental ‘youth’ spending such as the EMA or Sure Start centres, have all impacted disproportionately upon the young. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show, for example, that 20.4% of economically active 16 to 24 year olds were unemployed in the three months to February 2011, compared to a headline unemployment rate of 7.8% of the working age population. Since the wedding day has been declared a bank holiday, the disproportionate interest shown by the young is not just a matter of their having more time to sit and watch TV. But it could be that the young are just more in need of a cheering up.
Of course, no-one is going to draw this connection. For one thing, the data simply doesn’t exist to test whether the hypothesis, that the young are more miserable and thus more ready to reach for fairytales to distract them from the banality of life, is supportable. More importantly, however, the young generally do not count in modern British society. Those under 18 who are hit hardest by education cuts and tuition fee rises are disenfranchised. Many work, and pay taxes, but are denied a vote. Because they can’t vote, it doesn’t matter what they think. Even once they can vote, because many of them don’t, they still can be ignored.
Over 50% of the British government’s annual budget goes on welfare (predominantly pensions, though including jobseeker’s allowance and various disability and child benefits which do directly help the young – see Chart 1) and the NHS (which, as anyone under 35 who has ever tried to get an ailment taken seriously by the NHS will know, is Not For Young People). Areas of spending which predominantly benefit older voters are protected, while those which benefit the young – also known as the people who are going to have to pay the debt off – are slashed. But there we go. Young people don’t vote, so no-one cares what they think. Fortunately they can watch some nice young royals on Youtube instead. So that’s alright then.
Update 19:23 – check out this piece over at The Guardian expressing exactly the sort of escapist sentiments I have just been talking about. And you thought they were all Guardian readers over there…