Population ageing is transforming the age structure of the electorate in Britain.
The pace of the age-shift in electoral politics is being accelerated by the widening
gap in turnout rates between younger and older age groups
Within this context some writers have begun to believe that the grey lobby will
grow ever more powerful and difficult to ignore. Lloyd (2002) argues the UK is
beginning to reflect US politics where the MRP has been described as a larger and
more powerful lobby than organised labour. Some respected theorists and
prominent writers such as Sinn (2002) and Dychtwald (1999a) go as far as predicting
ageing democracies such as Germany and the USA will soon become
'gerontocracies'. For other writers the situation is more paradoxical, a case of large
numbers but small influence excluded from political influence by the consequences
of their exit from the workplace (Walker 1998), with little evidence of increased
responsiveness by governments or political parties to organised groups of older
people (Vincent et al, 2001).
This thesis investigates the rise of the grey vote and the mediation of
population ageing by the political parties and the media in response to the
demographic transformation of the electorate. It establishes and investigates the
theoretical place of age and older people in society, the manner in which the media
portrays ageing and the place of age, cohort and generation in electoral behaviour.
For the first time the shifting age structure of the electorate is quantified at
constituency level and projected forward to the year 2025.
In recognition of the close relationship between politics and the media in
constructing and negotiating dominant narratives and discourses a content analysis
of how the UK press have framed and discussed the implications of population was
undertaken. The General Election of 2005 was used an opportunity to further
analyse media framing and to conduct a content and discourse analysis of how the
political parties constructed narratives around ageing issues and the position of older
voters. Qualitative case studies of how flagship current affairs productions by the
BBC that focused on the political implications of ageing were also incorporated into
The continued rise of the grey vote is projected by this research to put older
voters in the position of numerically forming majorities in large number of
Westminster seats. The emergence of around 300 seats with a 'Grey Majority' leads
this research to contend that no political party that seeks to regularly form a majority
in the Commons will succeed without securing significant voting support from older
people. Population ageing is rarely front page news, but it is frequently incorporated
as a sub-theme in a wide range of stories. A 'time bomb' narrative which accepts
many neo-liberal normative assumptions is gaining ground particularly in elite
journalism. The main parties currently consciously reject these narratives and are
involved in developing complex discourses for negotiating the terms of allocating
additional resources and attention to ageing issues. The constructions and reconstructions
of the baby boomer generation are emerging as a focus point for these
competing narratives of the likely implications of the new 'grey politics'.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.