Before writing this article, I asked several young Brits if they would prefer an hypothetical undemocratic European Union over a Brexit. Most of my British contacts are high- or middle-class and active in so-called progressive political movements. Pretty much all of them told me that they would prefer staying in an undemocratic European Union.
Although I was shocked, I am completely aware that my tiny opinion poll doesn’t say anything about the opinion of the British youth as a whole. I am also aware that their answers are partially given in by their disappointment over last Thursday’s results. Regardless, I cannot fail to mention that their reactions to the Brexit result are utterly disappointing as well.
A referendum should not be taken lightly. It is a very heavy tool and you could question if it should have been used for such an important decision. However, the British government that was given an absolute majority by its own population, partially on the promise to organize such a Referendum, decided otherwise. The British population was given the chance to speak out in favor or against the European Union. The majority of the British population did so and opted for leave.
The youth didn’t use their democratic rights and only around 36% of them actually voted. Around 75% of them voted to remain within the European Union. That this group is disappointed is completely understandable based on their political stance. However, at some point it is also wise to respect the outcome of a democratic vote and move forward, certainly when we are not talking about undemocratic or immoral decisions. The referendum was not rigged, campaigners from both sides had the time and means to set up large campaigns, and a large part of the British population did take the opportunity to speak out on this topic.
The British youth immediately responded in a very negative way, despite the fact that it was their age group who threw away their democratic power. Several ideas were put forward to undermine the outcome of the Referendum. One of them was a quickly launched petition calling for a second referendum, arguing that such an important decision requires at least a turn-out of 75%, otherwise a majority of over 60% is needed. The lack of proposals beforehand mainly underlined their firm believe in a positive outcome. Changing the rules afterwards cannot be called democratic at all. Also the fact that their own petition proved to be rigged, with over 20.000 signatures from Vatican City (where around 800-900 people live), didn’t seem to matter.
The self-proclaimed progressive British youth mainly worries about its own way of life. Could they still study in another European country? What would happen to their free movement rights? Understandable questions, but a progressive youth could have felt a bit of compassion towards members of their own political ranks who did vote for leave, no matter their age or educational background. We are talking about an old working class feeling ignored and having difficult times to support themselves and their families. Whole traditional Labor bastions massively voted for leave. Just as the progressive youth voted for their ideals, for their way of life, so did the working class.
Regardless, any form of compassion or understanding didn’t happen. The leave-vote was explained as “irrational” and “uninformed”, it solely depended on people who didn’t know what they are actually voting for, and let us not forget the racists. The leave supporters campaigned fiercely, but also so-called progressive youth were not afraid to generalize and offend themselves. The elderly voters and especially the baby boomers, of whom over 80% did use their democratic rights, became target of shameful attacks; “Many of them are going to die soon anyway, so why should they have anything to say about the future of the country?” This widely heard comment should have been criticized right away, certainly by the youth of whom so few bothered to show up, but no one did.
Once I had the hope that the progressive British youth would get rid of the UK’s elitist political culture, would do something about Britain’s huge socio-economic inequality, and would join ranks to make the EU more democratic. This hope was shattered in the past days. Idealism is apparently not worth fighting for if it affects your style of living too much, regardless of how millions of others think and live, regardless of being progressive or not. It may be true that the young have the future, but the old know the past.
The author is a 2015 Graduate of Democracy.
Disclaimer: This Post reflects solely the author’s opinion and do not represent the platform as a whole