Early on in life, as I started to take an interest in politics, I was struck by that fact that so many young people seemed to be extremely left-wing (I was a Cambridge at a bad time), whereas only the old and fuddy-duddy seemed to recognise the obvious benefits of Jeffersonian Principles and classical liberal economics. I was worried. Clearly as the young people grew up, and the fuddy-duddies died out, the whole world would be Marxist.
I realised the flaw in the argument when I came across the dictum “If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart. If you’re still a socialist at forty, you have no brain” (widely attributed to Churchill – but then most good quotes are). The fact is that people’s views change as they get older. And I suspect that’s not so much because they get comfortable and risk-averse, rather it’s because they start to understand the world better, and with family and children they have a greater stake in it, and a longer-term view.
The failed assumption is that attitudes remain the same as we age. They don’t. Yet here we have the Indy falling into the same trap: “Take heart, Europhiles!” they cry, “40% of young people want to stay in Europe! They value the promise of free movement! Just wait till those old Sceptics die off, and we can all be good Europeans together!”
I suspect they may find that real life doesn’t work out like that. And exactly what does the EU’s free movement promise mean to young people? Yes, you can go and study at the Sorbonne or in Strasbourg. But you can also go and study in San Francisco or Singapore or Sydney. Like it or not, we live in a global economy, and we don’t need to limit our ambitions to a Europe in long-term relative decline. There were nearly 9000 British students in the USA in 2009/10 and the number is set to increase with higher student fees in the UK.
At least two of my former (British) staffers now have jobs in the USA, one as a think-tanker, the other as Corporate Affairs Director of a major US defence contractor. There are opportunities beyond the borders of Europe – and frequently in English speaking countries, which for a non-linguist like me is a big plus.
I took my first holiday in France (with my parents) in 1952 and I didn’t notice the lack of free movement. Thousands of English retirees were living in Spain before we joined the “Common Market” in 1973.
As it happens, I spent a dozen years of my career, on and off, in East and South East Asia – Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. And I didn’t notice a lack of free movement there either. So OK, maybe outside the EU a new UK graduate would have slightly more difficulty getting a job in Romania, but not many British graduates are seeking jobs in Romania.
Young people should be concerned about their career prospects and job opportunities. When the UK leaves the EU, we can expect lower taxes, lower energy prices, more flexible labour markets, more inward investment, more jobs and more growth. Young people with their heads screwed on will see the benefits.
Perhaps it would be too cynical to recall also that come the referendum, young people are very much less likely to vote.