In a night of political shocks and wildly inaccurate polling, one of the most notable trends is the reportedly high turnout among young people. YouGov’s figures estimate that roughly 59 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voted , a huge rise on the 43 per cent who votes in 2015. Lord Ashcroft’s polling data reports that 67 per cent of those votes went to Labour.
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’ are those who 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 18-24 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 Labour 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 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 saw people their 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.
Corbyn reached out to young people; 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 which clearly resonated with young people.
The assumption that young people voted only for themselves is exactly why we’re facing a hung parliament. For years, successive governments (of all parties) have ignored young people, banking on them not showing up. As parties have offered young people little, young people have shied 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 their politics, they saw the value of young people’s stake in society, taking them seriously; that’s something we can all get behind.