Epsom, UK – It is December 2019. The UK’s general election has just taken place, and my hometown, Epsom, is confused.
Let me set the scene. Epsom is a place that people drive through and not to, and is, for the most part, quite bland. Surrounded on one half by quaint countryside towns, and the other bustling London, our town is not known for much.
However, we do have the following claims to fame: special salt, and horse racing.
Epsom salts were discovered in Epsom, when locals boiled water from a spring. Since the 17th century however, it has been insignificant to the town. Unlike glamorous spa towns around the world, Epsom has been mostly ignored. Except for its name, of course, which is printed onto bags of salt sourced from other parts of the world.
For centuries, we have had a horse race called the Epsom Derby. Set up by a rich family with a lot of time on their hands, it was a way for them to show off.
In current day Epsom, not just the Queen and the rich attend. Every June the town bursts at the seams with visitors from all walks of life. There are high heels, scruffy waistcoats, and hands clasping cans of wine as far as the eye can see.
Now it is December. The neon pink dresses have faded into cozy jumpers with sensible shoes, and overall, everyone is cold and miserable. Like every year, we have a market in the town square, and the local shops play the same 10 Christmas hits.
But this year, there were a few additions to our high street. There is a strange breed of people with awkward eye contact and a strange disposition. Politicians and their campaigners were vying for our attention, (well not mine, because I look like a child, but everyone else’s).
We just had a very confusing and monumentous election, and our town wasn’t quite ready.
I, a ‘Gen Z kid’ on the cusp of being a millennial, currently live with two baby boomers in their 70s. It is fair to say that my avocado-loving, environmental-campaigning ways – contrasted with their tofu-hating, crop top-disapproving outlook, often clash.
While many of my peers would be shocked at their comments, the last six months have taught me how a large part of this town views the world. The oldest and youngest voting generations, in one house, during a monumental election.
To set the political scene, this is a town going through some changes. Historically, this has been a conservative, right-wing stronghold. Our local member of Parliament is a vocal campaigner for leaving the European Union, while the town had a narrow majority for staying in the EU.
Epson, like most of the country, is split. People are joyous, angry, upset, and confused.
I know that my grandparents voted right wing. I know that many of my peers voted left, but many others voted right. A few voted centrist. Many 19-year-olds likely did not vote at all.
In this election, as well as the past few years, I have seen that the previously clear cut identity politics in this town have become much murkier. It almost feels that there are divides within divides in this town, and across the UK.
The topics of Brexit, local politics, and national policy are all intertwined, with no clear two or three sides anymore. The former clear cut identity politics that ruled this town seem to be both decaying and becoming stronger.
Previous lifelong supporters of one party are changing to a party that aligns with their Brexit beliefs and other choices. Yet simultaneously, we have those on the extreme ends of the right and left sticking firmly to their historic positions, as if their hands are glued to the box on the ballot paper.
And others – many others – have been left in the middle.
Statistics say that we no longer have a gender difference as to who votes for which party. Historically, women were more likely to vote conservative. Instead, statistics indicate an age divide in voting. There is a trend that older generations are more likely to support the right wing, and to want to leave the EU, while younger people – millennials and Gen Z crowd – have opposite views.
I have observed that the age divide is less of a divide and more of a chasm.
Living with the older side of the voting age spectrum, I have seen that there is bitterness from both ages towards one another. The older generation believes that young ‘uns do not have enough life experience and are nieve. They think the youth do not respect their elders and that they support ideals, without looking at the truth.
Meanwhile, the youngest generation believes that their grannies and grandpas are prejudiced and closed-minded. They think their elders are contributing to decisions that won’t affect them in the long run – because they will be dead – but that their grandchildren will have to live with.
In reality, neither view is entirely correct. I have worked with phenomenal young people who have amazed me with their critical thinking, compassion and knowledge about their communities.
I have also met very politically disengaged young people. I have seen very open-minded older people, as well as those who hold strong prejudices. There has always been an incongruence between generations. It’s natural and how the world moves on and progress is made.
But both generations could learn something from one another.
Young people can have less life experience, and be less aware of what parties and politicians have done in the past, but they can also have a very strong sense of what they see as justice and what is fair. It could be argued that in some cases, their lack of life experience prevents them from accepting less than what they want. The recent climate protests are a great example of this.
Those with more life experience may be so cynical that they would see it as futile. This young generation has not seen the stop signs laid down on the parts of the road that they were not around for, so they continue as if there are none. This is passion and almost optimism. It’s something that older generations could benefit from.
On the other hand, the ‘boomer’ generation also has something to offer. The other day my grandmother became very passionate and said that she doesn’t care how you vote, but only that you do. I am sure that this is not entirely true, and that she would be very angry if her party did not win, but it does reflect the overall consensus of this generation.
For them, it is disrespectful not to vote. It is a right that you have been given, and that people have died for. Even if they are not sure what to vote, they will. This is why they are the largest voting population in Epsom.
One couple I know in their 70s did not know what to vote in the Brexit referendum, so one voted leave, and the other remain. Yes, this is strange, and some may say defeats the point, but they would not waver their right to vote even when they were unsure.
Older generations in Epsom are often the ones involved in local politics, signing petitions, speaking to politicians and working at the polling booths. This passion for the ballot is something my generation would benefit from.
While the older generation are hasty to accept the political system, the younger can be so frustrated they disengage with it.
In this town full of Christmas lights and confusion, both generations could learn a lot from each other. This age divide is just one of many fractures in this town, and across the county.
As the extreme ends of the political spectrum move apart, there are many stuck in the chasm in between, looking for representation.
For the divides of age, Brexit and class to at least start healing, there needs to be a change in our attitudes. Those on all sides need to learn the skills of vulnerability and empathy.
It is a long shot, but in my opinion, we can all keep shouting for as long as we like, but at some point, for anything to actually work, we will all need to shut up and listen.
Amy Goodman is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.