John Harris

Journalist & Author

‘They want more than we did’ – how the Tories made age our biggest divide

The budget was hailed as a stroke of political genius – but its critics say it was a brazen defence of the old at the expense of the young. So are pensioners the only voters worth fighting for? And if so, what will become of their grandchildren?

It’s a Thursday morning in Christchurch, Dorset, and in its own way, the scene in the centre of town looks idyllic. The number of cafes – which include the obligatory Costa, and Caffe Nero – easily extends to double figures. In any city, they would be full of people barking out their orders and twitching their way to work, but here just about everyone takes their time. Breakfast might stretch to an hour; elevenses even longer. Meanwhile, as the sun beats down, other people idly sit on benches and at bus stops. Very quickly, you get the sense that being busy might easily strike some people as being tantamount to rudeness.

Christchurch has a population of 54,000 and sits at the heart of a parliamentary constituency with the same name. At the last count, the 33% of people here who are over 65 made it the constituency with the UK’s oldest age profile, a demographic quirk that hits you as soon as you arrive, not least on account of the number of bungalows. It is rock-solidly Tory: although the Lib Dems took it in a byelection at the fag-end of the John Major years, Christopher Chope now has a seemingly impregnable majority of 18,000 (with Ukip having recently leapfrogged the two other main parties into second).

Related: The Guardian view on the generation gap: youth clubbed | Editorial

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