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Opinion Millennial vs. boomer, stay vs. go: In flailing Britain, there are no easy divides

Anna Ruddock is a PhD candidate at King's College, London, and a former research analyst at the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We seem to live in a new age of biographical percentages: You might be part of the global 1 per cent, or of the 99 per cent under whose banner you might protest the structures that facilitate the existence of the 1 per cent. If you voted in last week's European Union referendum – as 72 per cent of the British electorate did – you are likely feeling acutely aware of your part of either the 51.9 per cent who voted to leave, or the 48.1 per cent who voted to remain.

And your disappointment as part of the latter group might be enhanced by being part of the 73 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds, or the 62 per cent of 25-to-34-year-olds, who voted to remain, in contrast to the majority of people over 45.

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The anguish among some young voters has been vocal and, given its natural social media habitat, viral. Much of it is a howl at the perceived injustice of a "golden generation" of privileged baby boomers "stealing the futures" of those who will have to live with the consequences of this enormous gamble predicated on internal Conservative Party squabbles for significantly longer.

Putting aside the claims to prescience of some Remainers – a section of whom are as certain of apocalypse as some Brexiters are of glory – what does it really mean to be young and British these days?

Much as the idea of the United Kingdom has been abstracted and fragmented into multiple visions depending on whose eye beholds it, so have understandings of its population and its best interests. A concept of "British youth" is proving to be as amorphous as what it means to be British in general.

Acting in the interests of the young is bound to be an inconsistent concept, too. In Boston in Lincolnshire (an English city now on the national radar for the highest leave vote at 75.6 per cent – a vote in protest at its neglect by Westminster), a listener told BBC Radio 4 that she was concerned that, as one of the few children in his class who spoke English as a first language, her son received insufficient attention from teachers.

As things currently stand, on leaving school he will enter a local economy in which the hourly wage is £4 lower than the national average. We can lament that this mother chose to express her frustration through a vote to leave the EU – and we are right to rage against the political and media duplicity that encouraged that decision – but we cannot in good faith argue that she ignored, or willfully voted against, the interests of the young.

Nor can those wealthier Leave voters in the shires be said to have voted without thought for the young. Or, rather, their young. Confidence in their own economic security extends to their offspring, allowing an experimental vote from comfortable surroundings for a faux-nostalgic vision of "sovereignty" without fear of the inevitable repercussions.

The second uncomfortable truth is that emerging data suggests the referendum result would be different had young people voted in the same numbers as the over-65s. Raging against an unwanted result when your own generation didn't turn out in the required numbers is a tricky, and no doubt deeply frustrating, position.

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Why don't more young Brits vote? Perhaps because the absence of political education in our schools promotes apathy. Perhaps because the well-off are too insulated to feel the consequences of elections, and those same consequences give the marginalized the impression that their vote is immaterial.

Will more young people from across the social spectrum be politicized by these events? Will 16 and 17-year-olds be enfranchised? Will older votes regret choosing Leave, and will it matter? Will we as a society even attempt to understand one another across the multiple divides this referendum has so painfully illuminated?

I am flailing along with so many others. Talking and writing about unknowable futures, spilling words onto a screen as though they might breed prescience; seeking a glimpse of light at the end of a tunnel that we have only just entered.

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