Young Britons more right-wing than previous generations, study says

Blair pageYoung people in Britain are more right-wing and authoritarian in their political views than previous generations, a new study of political attitudes has revealed.

The paper, published in the British Journal of Political Sciences, analyses data from the British Social Attitudes Survey taken between 1985 and 2012. It found that those who grew up under the Margaret Thatcher’s governments in the 1980s were exceptionally conservative compared to previous cohorts.

This move towards a more conservative attitude then strengthened in the following generations of ‘Blair’s babies’, who grew up under the New Labour governments of the late nineties and early naughties.

The study, co-authored by Prof Stephen Farrall, Prof Colin Hay, Dr Maria Teresa Grasso and Dr Emily Gray in the Faculty and colleagues at the University of Southampton, found a preference among young people for right-wing policies in regard to the welfare, crime and the economy.

The authors say while Thatcher is responsible for embedding conservative authoritarian values, New Labour governments ‘reproduced, not challenged’ the political philosophy of previous Conservative governments which allowed it to be passed on to a new generation.

In the paper they note: “Thatcher’s crusade successfully promoted and consolidated economic as well as social values.

“Her moral crusade was extremely successful at changing the values of the generation that came of age at that time, and at influencing society to such an extent that New Labour came to accept these as setting the ideational parameters of political competition.”

Professor Stephen Farrall of the School of Law, speaking to The Independent about the paper’s findings, said: “Blair did not really challenge the kind of discourse which Thatcher had set up. Remember his quote about being “quite relaxed about people getting rich”.

“Our take is that the younger generations have become increasingly socially and economically liberal.

“They’re much less concerned about religious beliefs or whether you’re gay, lesbian or straight, which people were previously more concerned about. They are much more accepting of diversity, but they are also much more accepting of economic inequality.”

The paper challenges the notion that younger generations are more liberal in their political thinking, with many commentators pointing to the majority of young Brits who voted to remain in the EU during last year’s referendum.

Dr Will Jennings, a co-author on the paper, told the FT: “Maybe Brexit and Trump are revealing that politics is less organised along the traditional left/right dimension than we usually think.”