Just two months ago, the PM Theresa May had approval ratings to rival Thatcher at her pomp and her party was on for a Blair-like majority of 150+ seats. Theresa May decided to go back on her 5 promises not to call a snap election and move to ‘strengthen her hand’ and destroy Labour once and for all.
Corbyn supporters were quietly dismayed. I had written, just a couple of weeks earlier, that Labour would need a seismic shift to win in 2020. I’d argued that with three years to work on getting his message across, Corbyn could feasibly shift the public. So having just 7 weeks to change the minds of Britain seemed a mountain too high to climb.
At the start of the election, it seemed Theresa May simply had to avoid any major miss steps in the lead up to her coronation because she faced with a Labour leader who was struggling to find friends even amongst his own party.
All through the campaign, Labour’s poll ratings have climbed relentlessly. And all through the campaign, we were told that the rise was down to shy Tories or lethargic Corbynites.
As Labour climbed the polls we were told this was down to overexcited young people who would probably be too stoned to actually vote when it came to it. Young people are selfish and entitled, we were told, and so most pollsters simply ignored their responses.
Instead, Britain’s youth decided not to be ignored. With just under 70% of the nation voting, turnout was the highest since Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide. Even more remarkably, turnout among 18-24s was estimated at 66.4%-72%, so possibly higher than the average among all voters. Back in 2015, Ed Miliband was pleased to get 18-24 turnout up to 43% with an overall turnout of 58%. Depending on which poll you read, and let’s face it, they almost all underestimated the Labour vote, around 55% of the under 25s voted for Labour.
I campaigned in Battersea and Tooting, in South London (both voted Labour!) and was always stunned to see how many bright young people were turning up to knock on doors for the promise of a new society.
So why did Corbyn engage so many young people?
Maybe, just maybe they were telling the truth all along when they said they weren’t voting because there was nothing worth voting for.
I’m 47 years old and this was the first time I have had the opportunity to campaign and vote for a Labour party with genuine socialist credentials. Too often in the past, Labour has simply been the ‘best of a bad bunch’. This time, the party was offering a genuine alternative and people lapped it up.
One of the earliest signs that something different might be happening was Grime4Corbyn. This grassroots campaign group was launched to encourage young people to engage with the electoral process after a number of Grime artists including, Novelist, Stormzy, AJ Tracey and JME, all came out in support of the Labour leader. He also got vocal support from people who have normally stayed clear of Parliamentary politics like Akala, Lowkey, the Chicken Connoisseur and even Russell Brand.
At first, many scoffed, claiming this was just a desperate move by the Labour leader to court the youth vote, a vote which many had tried and failed to galvanise in the past. The people who are paid big bucks to write about politics, on the whole, know nothing about these communities. They describe them as ‘hard to reach’ and assume they have zero interest in politics. In fact, young working class communities have the nation’s most acute bullshit detectors. They are so used to being lied to, misrepresented or pitched at that they are cynical about everything. If Corbyn survived this scrutiny, it should have alerted anyone who was paying attention that something was going on. Politics happens to these communities in much more perilous ways than it does elsewhere. Inner city working class communities are a bit like political New York ‘ ‘If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere’. The same magic that engaged grime seems to have engaged other young people.
They looked at Corbyn, looked at what he had said in the past and the unpopular stands he had made and stuck by. They saw a man with integrity in a world of political expediency.
When the press, laughed at him and misrepresented him, they saw parallels with how they are treated and misrepresented. Young people from urban communities had long given up on the mainstream and its views and so it was easy for them to see this much-maligned 68-year-old middle-class white man as one of them.
…and then there were the policies. Housing benefit for under 21s, so that they are not dependent on living with their parents, a massive council house building programme to give them affordable homes to rent, dropping of tuition fees and bringing back maintenance grants making it easier for them to choose to learn, free meals for all primary school children to ease the burden on young parents etc etc. These policies would all have had a direct effect on the young.
There was a massive drive for young people to register to vote and between calling the election and the actual vote, over 1m extra voters under 25 decided to get involved in the process. Of all students who could register, 93% actually did.
Young people chose hope over fear but even after the results were in, pundits were quick to dismiss them.
The marked increase in Labour’s vote in university towns was apparently down to the party’s promise to cut tuition fees and tear up student debt. This, we were told, was an undeliverable bribe.
Cutting taxes to business was described as a sensible incentive to encourage enterprise, cutting fees to students was presented as a bribe.
Theresa May’s government is now clinging on by a thread, backed up by the Irish DUP with its dodgy policies. All the sensible money is on yet another election in the near future. May’s Tories are riddled with division and now she has the added challenge of keeping a party on the far-right on board. She’s shown zero ability to build alliances and she has been massively undermined by her failure to score in what seemed an open goal so chances are her Government will fall sooner rather than later. She’ll face a hostile Tory party that feels its entitlement to power slipping away and a more diverse Parliament of new MPs.
If there’s another election, Brenda from Bristol may well be beside herself but Britain’s young will be up for it. Labour supporters will have their tails up and I doubt anyone will laugh at the prospect of Corbyn being PM. Too many people now know that a different kind of Britain is possible.
The Tories will take him seriously and it’s too much to expect them to produce another disastrous manifesto and lacklustre campaign. The Conservative party is ruthless when it fears it will lose power and so May will be replaced by someone who plays better in the focus groups – Boris time?
Labour can expect some of its shiniest policies to be appropriated and the campaign will be different again. The Tories will not be able to replicate Corbyn’s appeal with the young (the Manydem). Even ‘cuddly buffoon’ Boris Johnson won’t cut across in the way Corbyn has.
Don’t hold your breath for Afrobeats4Boris.
Maurice Mcleod is a social commentator with Jamaican/Swazi heritage. He is director of his own communications company, Marmoset Media, and writes regularly for The Guardian and The Spectator among other titles. He is also vice chair of campaign group Race on the Agenda. Maurice often appears on Sky News as a talking head and writes about social issues, race or politics. He tweets as @mowords
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