The patronising explanations for young people backing Labour is exactly why they rejected the status quo
Premier Youth and Children's Work editor Jamie Cutteridge reflects on the 2017 general election results.
In a night of political shocks and more wildly inaccurate polling, one of the most notable trends is the reportedly high turnout among young people, with most of those votes seemingly going to the Labour party. Some unconfirmed figures suggest 72 per cent of 18-25 year olds voted, and while we won’t know precise figures for the next few days, the nationwide swing towards Jeremy Corbyn’s party suggests that not only was youth turnout up, but that they widely supported the Islington North MP.
Immediately, unsurprisingly, this was explained away and young people were written off. Toby Young, on ITV’s election coverage suggested young people had been “bought” by the Labour Party’s promise to scrap tuition fees, and many on Twitter agreed, throwing around the word “bribe” like Labour throw around spending promises.
There’s a certain hypocrisy that those who criticise young people for voting ‘selfishly’ in this way themselves benefitted from free university education. There’s a one-eyedness in ignoring that for years parties have cozied up to older generations knowing they will vote. There’s a naivety in assuming tuition fees are all young people care about: while the offer of scrapping tuition fees was appealing, for many 18-25 year olds, that horse has already bolted – they’re either already at university, or have already decided against it. These dismissive attitudes are precisely what enabled the Labour Party to harness the youth vote and shake up Westminster.
For years, young people have been written off as politically disengaged, as selfish, as absent from the process. But those of us who work with young people know that’s not always the case. Many young people care, passionately care about their future and the future of those around them. They see a world in pain and want to do something about it, they’re a generation who see people they’re age fleeing countries and living as refugees and wanted to do something about. Many of them are passionate about justice. They’re not old enough to have been ground down by the world yet; they can still believe another world is possible. What young people want, more than more money in their pocket, is to be part of something, to feel like their voice is being heard, like they matter. And yes, for some of them, this isn’t true. There is a certain self-obsessed nature to this generation, but this isn’t a trait absent from adults. And yes, of course there’s some anger that they feel like an ignored, written-off generation. But the Labour campaign didn’t play on these, instead they appeared to their better angels – they offered them hope and change, rather than manipulating their anger and cheap dissatisfaction.
This is exactly what Labour offered – more than any other political campaign of recent times, Corbyn’s campaign felt like a movement, it felt like in signing up to vote or campaign, you were playing your part in a force for change, be it through the wider Labour Party, or the activist wing, Momentum. And not just that, Corbyn reached out to them; he was interviewed by UniLad and Copa 90 YouTube channels and graced the covers of NME and Kerrang! magazines. He ran a positive campaign, one full of hope and optimism. Whether you agree with him or not, in an era of attack ads and cynicism, it was a refreshing change, and one that clearly resonated with young people.
And this assumption that young people voted only for themselves is exactly why we’re facing a hung parliament today. For years, successive governments (of all parties) have ignored young people, banking on them not showing up. And this has worked, as parties have offered young people little, young people have shyed away from the process. But for the first time in years, Jeremy Corbyn and his party broke the cycle and have reaped the rewards. Irrespective of his politics, Corbyn and his supporter saw the value of young people’s stake in society, they took young people seriously and that’s something we can all get behind.