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CapX Weekly Briefing

Breaking the triple lock

If there is a golden rule of British politics, it is to suck up to the elderly.

The lesson of the Brexit referendum - indeed, of pretty much every election, local and national - is that older people are overwhelmingly the most important constituency, because they are overwhelmingly the most likely to vote. That is why, even as working-age benefits have been chiselled away in recent years, OAPs still enjoy gold-plated pensions, free bus passes and the like.

So important is this rule that even the Labour Party obeys it. When they won control of their party, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell spoke the language of generational warfare. They would get a fair deal for those younger voters denied good homes and good jobs.

It was idealistic, but electorally suicidal. Pretty soon, McDonnell was reinventing himself as the pensioners’ friend, in particular by promising to retain the “triple lock” on the state pension even as the work and pensions committee was branding it “unfair and unsustainable”.

Earlier this week, Theresa May stunned Westminster by announcing a snap election. Over the last few days, I’ve been canvassing the views of Westminster’s centre-Right think tanks on what they think should be in the Tory manifesto that’s now being hastily drawn up - and what shouldn’t.

We’ll publish the results on Monday, but one striking finding was that when I asked which policy or policies the Tories should drop, every single one of the experts mentioned the triple lock.

Good policy, however, does not always make for good politics. This, indeed, is one of the long-term trends that most worries observers of government. The elderly are not only more electorally powerful, but ever more numerous (thanks to astonishing advances in longevity).

Many people fear that the result will be gerontocracy: government of, by and for the elderly, who will load an ever larger burden on those of working age to pay for their care homes and hospital beds.

Yet the story of the triple lock (actually a Lib Dem idea before its incorporation into the Coalition Agreement) suggests that this may not be an entirely uncontested process.

Introduced in 2010, the triple lock rapidly went - like so many other state handouts - from being seen as a welcome perk to a timeless right. A new poll by Old Mutual Wealth claims that more than a third of over-55s would be less likely to vote Conservative if it comes under threat.

Yet Theresa May is - for the moment - refusing to commit to it (much to McDonnell’s theatrical dismay).

Now, you could argue that this is only possible because of quite how crushingly superior May is to Corbyn as a candidate. She leads him among voters in every region, of every class, of every age. And among elderly voters, that lead becomes downright ridiculous: in the latest YouGov poll, May has the support of 78 per cent of over-65s, and Corbyn just 5 per cent.

But still. If the PM sticks to her guns over the triple lock, it will be one small sign that modern politics is not just about telling voters what they want to hear - that there is still a space for bad ideas to be argued down. And while it will hardly tilt the unfair balance between generations, it will at least show that it isn’t entirely fixed.

Below you'll find our usual round-up of the week's best pieces from CapX - plus the latest edition of our new podcast, Free Exchange, in which I talk to the award-winning commentator Peter Oborne.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Colvile
Editor, CapX

May has given Britain the election it desperately needed

By Chris Deerin
Theresa May's announcement that she wants a general election may be a shock, but it is good for the UK's democratic hygiene. It gives the Prime Minister the opportunity she needed to secure a mandate for her ideological break with the Cameron government - and gives centrist and centre-left voters the chance to save Labour by demonstrating that the hard Left is an electoral dead end.

Theresa May is turning stability into supremacy

By Robert Colvile
The turmoil in British politics is one of the best illustrations of the way in which life in general is becoming more volatile. Yet that very phenomenon also explains the triumph of Theresa May. Since entering the leadership race last summer, she has offered calm and stability when it was desperately needed - but she has also promised voters a bold vision for the future. Can she balance radicalism and reassurance?

Give women the freedom to fix poverty

By Chelsea Follett
One of the more frightening revelations in the UN's recent Human Development Report is that more than 100 countries forbid women from working in some professions. This is just one of the many ways in which women around the world are denied their economic freedom. As reforms in Ethiopia demonstrate, the economic liberation of women is not only the right thing to do, but a proven road out of poverty.

Africa is urbanising without globalising

By Daniel Knowles
Kinshasa is Africa's third largest city and home to 12 million people. Yet only 11 international flights depart from its airport each day. The DRC capital's poor connections with the outside world makes it typical of Africa's megacities. They have grown at astonishing rates but unlike most cities elsewhere they have been built for consuming - not creating - wealth. The result is an unproductive mix of slums and white elephants.

It's not inequality that gets people angry - it's unfairness

By Oliver Wiseman
There are two opposing stories about our attitudes to inequality. Some psychological studies suggest mankind is innately averse to it. Others show not only that we tolerate a degree of inequality but that we actually prefer it. Yet this contradiction has been convincingly reconciled in a new paper. Its authors argue that when people appear to get angry about inequality, in fact they are worried about unfairness. 

Free Exchange: CapX meets Peter Oborne

By CapX
Peter Oborne is one of Britain's most important - and controversial - commentators. His diagnosis of the malaise of the political class, and of the rise of post-truth politics, was years ahead of the curve. In the second episode of CapX's new podcast, Free Exchange, he discusses the state of politics and the media, why the West is wrong about Islam, and what he's been wrong about himself. Listen via the link above or subscribe via iTunes

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