Britain's youth vote for Corbyn revitalises British politics

Britain's youth transform British politics by turning out in their thousands for Corbyn
5 min read
09 June, 2017
Political pundits were left scratching their heads on Thursday morning after political polls were proved wrong by a massive and unexpected turnout by the nation's youth- or was it?
The United Kingdom woke up to a shocking hung Parliament on Thursday, as the Conservative party failed to achieve an outright majority of seats.

A shocking result to anyone but the nation's youth perhaps.

This election will be remembered as one of the most incredible political events in modern British history. The nation's youth, widely criticised for their apparent voter apathy, turned out in droves to vote for the first time, changing the state of the nation's politics.

Initial, unconfirmed reports from the National Union of Students suggest that 72 percent of people aged 18-25 turned out to vote on Wednesday. By comparison, only 43 percent of under-25s voted in the 2015 election.

Social media accounts played a big role in Labour's campaign to get young people to register to vote, using Snapchat and targeted Facebook campaigns to reach the previously unconnected.

One young woman texted her father after voting for the first time: "Be proud of me. I was soaked through by the rain but I still went out and voted."

"A cultural & systematic shift"

The majority of young voters that The New Arab spoke to about their experiences were not in the least surprised by the result.

Many expressed a frustration against a political system that had ignored and mocked their attempts to get involved, while others said that the signals had been there all along.

"For anyone who's been engaged with young people on the ground over the past month it doesn't come as huge surprise to see the numbers," said Mustafa al-Dabbagh, 23, a pharmacy graduate from south west London.

"It's only a surprise to politicians and media because they were so arrogant and overtly privileged to not take Corbyn, or indeed young people, seriously."

They can't comprehend the reality - that we are demanding a change in politics, a cultural and systematic shift.

"They can't comprehend the reality - that we are demanding a change in politics, a cultural and systematic shift."

The Labour vote was consistently higher in constituencies with younger voters, such as student towns.

The resounding consensus that came from a series of interviews with young voters was that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, and the policies he represents, was the main reason behind why most people got out to vote.

Corbyn was much maligned in the run up to the election, with newspapers criticising his policy on foreign policy, nuclear weapons and security.

Yet this message appears not to have gotten across to a new generation of engaged and passionate voters.

"Corbyn has definitely captured the kind of young public imagination, whether rightly or wrongly, simply because he seems honest and normal," said Mike Wheatley, 20, a shop worker from Evesham.

"I think people wanted to support Corbyn so they registered to vote for him."

Social Media

Shortly after the BBC's leadership debate in Cambridge on 31 May, Jeremy Corbyn was filmed shaking hands with a crowd of young students - before he reached out and accepted a Pringle crisp from a young supporter.

This incident was uploaded to social media and went viral, showcasing Corbyn's accessibility and perceived 'normalcy'.

In an election where the Conservative Prime Minister was called a "robot" and lampooned for repeatedly quoting the same soundbites again and again, Corbyn was seen as a normal man who was trying to change politics for the people.

This one video is but one example of where social media helped reach out directly to a massive audience.

Large numbers of celebrities also appeared on these channels, urging people to vote Labour.

The hashtag campaign #Grime4Corbyn, backed by grime artists including Stormzy and JME, was one of the campaign's highlights, with young black musicians urging young people to register and vote.

"My man Jeremy, I dig what he says," said Stormzy, who topped the music charts with his number 1 selling album, Gang Signs & Prayer.

This targeted social media campaign best signifies what some are describing as the new normal for politics and for the nation's media.

Historically, the national newspapers have had an enormous influence on the nation's vote, but with the majority of young people now choosing to get their news from social media - this effect is on the decline.

Social media campaigns like 'Bun [slang for burn] the Tories' used humour to inform young people about policies and issues via Twitter and other social media accounts.

"Young people have a huge wealth of resources available to us in terms of communication and attaining information - they [the establishment] can't play by the old rule book anymore," said Milly Rigby, a spokesperson for Bun the Tories.

"It's undeniable that the endorsement of Grime / black British culture has done a lot to add to Corbyn's credibility.

"Young black British Twitter is a huge force and cultural leader, it's where much of the best memes, commentary and interaction comes from.

Policies

Whatever the reason, there was a consensus among most political pundits on Thursday morning that Labour's new approach has revitalised British politics. What was once perceived as 'pointless', has now become essential.

Labour put forward a strong, populist manifesto which was fully costed and backed by increased taxation for corporations and the richest in society.

"Labour policies like free education, putting billions back into the NHS and providing a positive vision of the future is what drew me and others to believe that there was an actual choice in this election, rather than the usual voting for the lesser of two evils," said Samayya Afzal, 25, who works in a museum in Bradford.

"I think the policies are what challenged apathy in young people around me."

Labour's plans to increase spending on hospitals, schools, social care and other public services all resonated with voters after seven years of economic austerity.

But when it came to the media's treatment of the youth, too often a sense of condescension was allowed to creep into the debate.

"I felt the condescending attitude all the way from Theresa May down to the pollsters - no one had faith that young people would stake their claim to their future by voting Labour," Afzal said.

Despite the rhetoric, and one of the most vociferal media campaigns of any recent national election campaign, the youth vote remained strong and turned out on the day, leading to a resounding Labour success.

"This result has served as an elegant rebuttal to the notion that Britain's youth are feckless, disengaged, bed-bound wastrels. They rock," tweeted TV personality, Sue Perkins.