Neither young nor especially marketable, yet Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of Old Labour, surprisingly, may open the door to young voters
In a country where, merely a few months ago, Labour’s leader Ed Miliband was being castrated by the national tabloids for being too left-wing, the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the populist but unlikely frontrunner for the Labour Party leadership, could be described as odd at best. Yet, despite claims of the radical left infiltrating the race (consequently pushing the party away from its New Labour history), a Corbyn victory could indeed provide the Labour Party with a new image, in turn allowing the party to break free of its damaging Blairite legacy.
Initially, it’s easy to understand why the possibility of a Corbyn victory (a seemingly ideal outcome for the Conservatives and other opposition parties) may appear to signal the end of Labour rather than its renewal. In a party with a modern reputation for being out of touch with the working people, supporting the ‘work-shy’ and an influx of uncontrolled immigration, a Corbyn victory would look almost certain to provide a bleak outcome for the party’s future success compared to the manifesto of other candidates such as Andy Burnham. Rather than re-energizing former voters (particularly those lost to UKIP) and ridding the party of its image as an unpragmatic relic of the past, the possibility of a Corbyn victory initially echoes the Labour Party’s 1983 manifesto, aptly nicknamed ‘The longest suicide note in history’.
Similarly to his possible predecessor, Corbyn is also facing a marketability problem. Whilst Miliband was attacked under the moniker of Red Ed, Corbyn’s reputation is faring equally poorly due to the presence of scare tactics. These claim a coup from the radical left is but one of the precedents being swung into place by the media and centrist Labour politicians.
Nerveless, despite Corbyn’s reputation as an Old-Labour socialist and the media’s discomfort with his lead, it does not mean that his potential to effectively serve as Labour Leader is in any way diminished. Instead, his reputation as being strongly principled and more akin to the Labour Party which cared more about the interests of workers than corporations could serve, in an era of austerity, to increase Labour’s popularity, especially amongst the young. With the youth vote being, by default, much more likely to be leftist leaning, Corbyn’s proposals (should he become leader) which include a national education service, scrapping tuition fees and reintroducing the maintenance grant would well serve a generation growing increasingly isolated by the Conservatives’ welfare and education reforms. Indeed, considering the general apathy of the youth vote in politics, a Corbyn victory could also propel more young voters to vote rather than abstain as they find themselves confronted with an ideology that they can subscribe to rather than one which they despise.
The discourse surrounding the youth vote is comparable to that surrounding the votes of the poorest in society – namely, both the working class and the recent phenomena of the underclass. In both of these demographics voter turnout is amongst the lowest in the country yet these are the people who are hit the hardest by the very austerity measures which Corbyn would counter. Consequently, Corbyn’s economic plan which fights against welfare cuts and a £10 minimum wage could prove pivotal in refranchising formerly apathetic voters to support the party, and in currently Conservative-held swing seats, could boost Labour’s popularity.
A Corbyn victory could also play a role in reclaiming influence in Labour’s former stronghold: Scotland. Whilst it is hugely important not to underestimate the SNP’s influence and the very real and present desire for independence which continues to flourish, Corbyn’s presence as a leftist candidate would provide an alternative vote for those who had previously rejected Scottish Labour for being too much like the Conservatives and other ‘southern’ parties, and who don’t subscribe fully to the independence that the SNP is seeking.
Despite the fears about Corbyn’s capabilities to carry new voters and regain old ones amidst a time of political uncertainty for the Labour Party, a Corbynite-led party may not end up with the catastrophic consequences that Blair and Co are predicting. Though it appears evident that he would struggle in regaining voters who defected to UKIP, his policies hold a lot of ground with first-time youth voters, traditional Labour supporters and the currently deeply fragmented Scottish Labour, owing much to his status as an Old Labour socialist.
As public and party reception to his policies currently stands, a Corbyn victory wouldn’t spell the end of the Labour Party but rather, the end of ‘The Labour Party’ as we’ve known it since 1997. Indeed, Corbyn would provide a much welcome rejuvenation.