“It was the youth that won it,” rang the cries when the Labour party defied the polls by forcing a hung parliament last week (June 8). Well, not quite. Theresa May still technically won this election, if winning means having a 50m head start in a 100m race, limping towards the finish line, collapsing a couple of metres short before being dragged forward by a lesser-known, ethically dubious bunch of strangers, while also being aware of your own impending doom. Wow, winning feels good, right?
If Jeremy Corbyn and Labour didn’t win this election, then young people did. After years of seeing their futures sealed by older voters, they finally stood up and changed the tide. No more apathy, no more “my vote doesn’t count” negativity. It was time to be heard. An NME-led exit poll saw a +12 points rise in youth turnout. “Respect your youngers,” tweeted Lily Allen.
In some corners, high youth turnout doesn’t represent something positive. Quite the opposite. Chances are you’ve seen a 50-something called Barry popping up in your Facebook feed claiming the young are ‘naive’, easily led, that the voting age should be well over 18 because we simply cannot comprehend basic economics, us foolhardy youths!
“Have we come to respect the youngers and their opinions too much?” asked Clare Foges – oh you know, just David Cameron’s former political speechwriter – in The Times. This is just “a fling” was the claim in GQ from Andy Coulson, the phone-hacking, ex-Cameron spin doctor who somehow isn’t behind bars. A good spread of open-minded opinions from unbiased sources, there.
These reactions are arrogant and completely delusional at best. The truth is, the youth have spoken up before and they’ll do so again. Nick Clegg’s failed tuition fees pledge ruined the party. Corbyn’s radical manifesto saved his. Pundits need to take stock of what’s actually happening, or face the prospect of being forever ignorant to the power of the youth vote.
This was about more than tuition fees
Labour’s pledge to make university education free was “the £11 billion bribe”, claimed the Daily Mail. Unlike, for instance, the £350 million ‘save the NHS’ lie plastered on Boris Johnson’s Brexit campaign bus. Or the Liberal Democrats’ giant cardboard cutout promise that tuition fees would absolutely never in a million years go up to 9 grand per year. Nope.
Some young voters flocked to the polls with tuition fees on their mind. The prospect of going to university without a lifetime’s debt was, surprise surprise, quite enticing. Others were told their outstanding debt would be eradicated. Again, a big draw.
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But Labour’s game-changing manifesto was titled ‘For The Many, Not The Few’, not ‘For The Students, Sod The Rest’. This was a vision for whole society. One that didn’t favour the rich or offer tax havens to giant companies. One that gave everyone in the country a fighting chance for a privileged education and a successful career. One that reversed purse-tightening austerity that’s defined the UK for the last decade.
Labour promised to invest in the NHS, social care, housing and education, funded in part by taxing the super-rich. Yer da can cite his economics degree and claim none of these policies add up, but the Tories didn’t provide any costs either. Millionaires in the UK aren’t giving their fair share, and the rest of this country is wide awake to that fact. They’ve been underestimated and told to keep schtum for too long.
If the ‘tuition fees’ policy was bribery, what about these?
Labour’s tuition fees pledge was a financial incentive to get young people voting. But isn’t that literally how manifestos work? Parties are supposed to win you over with promises for a brighter future, and more often than not these involve money. Conservative voters might want to protect their small businesses and provide financial stability for their family, so they vote Tory. Is that bribery? The Tories’ u-turn on dementia tax happened because citizens realised they were going to be royally ripped off, that the value of their property would diminish. Almost every manifesto policy relates in some way to money, and a huge chunk of voters make their decision based on personal gain.
If this was bribery, then as was the Conservative pledge to raise the personal allowance of income tax, or to guarantee to raise pensions in line with earnings and inflation. Money talks.
We’re significantly worse off than previous generations
This is the reality young people are faced with today: They fork out upwards of £27,000 to go to university, only to be told they have little to no job prospects. They move to London for a career, only to pay an average rent upwards of £1000. They’re charged by estate agents to leave a property, and they’re charged renewal fees when they sign on for another year. They’re then told by political experts that it’s all their own fault. That they’re a bunch of latte-loving idiots. They should stop stock-buying avocados! Save up some pennies instead of buying pints and enjoying life!
Young people are sick of this – sick of being shortchanged and looked down upon. Some are lucky enough to be bailed out by their parents every time they can’t make rent, but at this stage, even the older generations are becoming increasingly aware that this can’t go on. The Conservative manifesto offered nothing in the way of reversing this. There wasn’t a single policy to incentivise the youth vote or to offer a flicker of hope that they weren’t consigned to a lifetime of hardship. This election didn’t boil down to one policy – it was a generational divide making itself heard.
And Jeremy Corbyn is the first politician in decades to speak up on these issues
I’ll be honest, when I first read Labour’s 2017 manifesto, I thought it was an actual fucking miracle. Those who thought they’d never be able to afford a flat were given hope. Anyone thinking university would be pointless was given reason to think otherwise.
This manifesto was the turning point in Labour’s campaign. Crowds began to chant Corbyn’s name to the sound of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’. Grime stars who’d never voted before in their life were campaigning on the streets. Many believed this wouldn’t translate into actual votes, but this underestimated just how radical Labour’s policies actually were. After Tony Blair’s ‘third way’ merging between left and right, Labour has traditionally been caught between appealing to its working class roots and the lure of big business. Young people have more often than not been an afterthought. Corbyn is the first Labour leader since 1997 to successfully articulate and attempt to combat young people’s fears.
But the buck doesn’t stop at Corbyn. This could instigate huge social change. Most important of all, the youth know how much their votes matter now. They can hold as much sway as over-65s. If an election was held tomorrow, who knows what would happen?