Jeremy Corbyn stunned the critics and the pundits (and pretty much everyone) in the election in June when he denied the Tories a majority in Westminster. The danger of Tory hubris was spelled out to Theresa May (as it was to David Cameron before her) as she squandered her 20 points lead in the polls and her half-functioning government with it. It was an election result of limitations: not bad enough for the Tories to lose; not good enough for Labour to win. But what’s clear is that Corbyn has secured his place as Labour leader and is beginning to set the agenda.
His success has largely been put down to the support of young people. According to voting data analysis by YouGov, the overwhelming majority of young people voted Labour in June. 66% of 18-19 year olds (first time voters), 62% of people aged 20-24, and 63% of people aged 25-29 all voted Labour. Voter turnout for those aged 18-19 was 57% which was an increase – though still nothing compared to the 84% turnout for people over the age of 70, 19% of whom voted Labour.
There are ironies to Corbyn’s success amongst young people. He is an old-fashioned socialist who has appealed to a young generation born and bred in neoliberal Britain – but maybe this is why he has done well.
For the first time in a long time, young people in this country feel like they have something to believe in: they voted for Corbyn because he gave them something to vote for. What exactly, is difficult to define. An ardent supporter would say ‘hope’. A disinterested voter might simply say an alternative to the Tories.
Tuition fees seems to have been assigned as the defining issue for young voters: Corbyn hates tuition fees; young people love that. This generalisation may or may not be true, but Labour certainly did unexpectedly well in some university cities such as Canterbury which has a student population of over 40,000. Corbyn lured the students in by promising to immediately abolish tuition fees if elected.
But an old mantra rings out: if it sounds too good to be true – then it probably is. Not long after the election it looked as though the shine was starting to come off with some in the Labour shadow cabinet back-tracking on this promise.
Another irony in Corbyn’s success with the younger generation is Brexit. We have given a resounding thumbs down to that idea, yet a thumbs up to Corbyn who cannot be described as pro-European. His referendum campaign was seen as lacklustre: in the run up to the vote he gave the EU an uninspiring 7/10 and nearly half of Labour voters didn’t even know what the party’s position was. Even now, Labour’s position on some Brexit issues such as membership of the single market is unclear.
Nonetheless people aged 18-30 were unfazed. As the election came to its climax it was dominated by domestic issues and, after the Tories disastrous ‘dementia tax’, Labour had closed the gap. Although this begs the question: is Corbyn a competent and popular PM in waiting, or is he just a means of punishing the Tories after seven years of austerity and Brexit backstabbing?
Corbyn is a survivor, that cannot be denied. In two years he has fought and survived two leadership contests, two rounds of local elections, the EU referendum, a by-election defeat, as well as the election in June; many in his party have stabbed him in the front; the right-wing press have run a hate campaign against him. And still he stands tall. He is made of strong stuff and many people of all ages admire that. He certainly comes across as having honesty and integrity.
There is a humane quality about him that shines in comparison to the May-bot. We see the pictures of him at his allotment and we think of our Grandpa: humble and homely.
So, if the young want to idolise Corbyn, let them. The up and coming generation has been excluded and punished by a vacuous and cynical political elite whose legacy is leaving us worse off than our parents. We’ll take the promises of a politician who seems to have honest goodwill, who seems to genuinely care – we have little else.
It is, however, essential that we are vigilant. Corbyn is, after all, a politician and we must make sure he delivers what he promises; we must avoid blind faith because he says what we want to hear. And most importantly, young peoples’ involvement in politics must be bigger than one man. A sustained engagement in democracy from the new generation will be the thing to create real change.
By Chris Park