An estimated 72 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in GE2017. Although it would be wrong to attribute Labour’s success solely on youth turnout, it is clear that young people played a crucial role in the outcome of the election.
And of course since the election; pollsters, politicians, journalists and commentators have been scratching their heads asking themselves: ‘How did this happen? How did we get it so spectacularly wrong … again?!’
Make no mistake, GE2017 was historic. Although Corbyn isn’t sitting in Number 10 (yet) … Labour were clearly the election victors. That said, the political landscape is so volatile at the moment — almost impossible to predict — that ‘victory’ might indeed be incredibly short-lived.
Certainly, whichever party ends up eventually triumphing, the youth vote is now key.
For the longest time, chasing young voters was seen as a waste of time by the mainstream political parties. Very recently, before that fateful night on June 8, an unnamed Tory MP said: ‘Under-30s love Corbyn but they don’t care enough to get off their lazy arses to vote for him’.
That MP, I can imagine, is either eating his words now or packing his bags.
Okay, so why did young people suddenly turn up to vote?
Since 1992, youth turnout rates at general elections have been in sharp and steady decline. In 1997, Blair’s infamous landslide, the youth turnout rate dropped by ten percentage points to 56 per cent; and then 41 per cent in 2001; and then 38 per cent in 2005. It has slowly increased since then, in both 2010 and 2015 — but nothing compared to 2017.
Many within the youth sector are hailing June 8 as a success. Their success, in a lot of ways.
Of course, these organisations did play some role in the election and should be commended.
However, the idea that the youth sector were mainly responsible for young people voting is, I am afraid, very wrong.
… And this is coming from someone working within a youth organisation that aims to involve and engage young people in politics.
I remember quite vividly, at the Creative Collisions conference earlier this year, some of these organisations being quite gloomy about the potential youth turnout in the election.
‘We haven’t been given enough time to properly organise’, was a recurring sentiment from many of them. It was as if they had written 2017 off.
What’s more, I was struck by how seemingly out of touch some of the key individuals at the top of these organisations were when it came to the general, political sentiment amongst the country’s youth.
Corbyn — and the somewhat ‘radical’ politics he has inspired — was rarely touched upon. Economic issues in particular, despite the painfully apparent living-standards crisis in this country, were swept under the rug in favour of more liberal-centrist ideas like ‘identity’ and culture. Platitudes instead of real politics.
This stood in stark contrast to Momentum‘s 2016 The World Transformed event in Liverpool where everyone who attended was, firstly, able to participate; and secondly, the range of discussion — from the environment, to economics, to social policy and foreign policy — was on a completely different level. It was bold, ambitious, fresh and exciting.
The ‘new politics’ in action.
Ultimately, the reason young people came out in force to vote in this election is because they were, knowingly or not, voting against neoliberalism.
They were voting for a real alternative: an alternative to the politics of free markets, privatisation, de-democratisation, austerity and economic plutocracy.
Since the onset of neoliberalism — under Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the United States — it has swept across much of the Western world like a political cancer. With it, slowly, has come falling living standards, stagnant wages and Victorian-like swathes of wealth inequality.
Moreover, neoliberalism — which can essentially be characterised as unrestrained, untampered free market capitalism — has eroded the democratic foundations of our society with its ideological insistence on reducing the power of government over the economy and its great sell-off of many of our key public services.
This ‘crisis in democracy’ — a direct result of neoliberal policymaking — was something many young people in this country had felt for some time. What’s the point in voting when all of the parties essentially represent the same (economic) interests? … Sound familiar?
Consciously aware of it or not, an aspect of this election was a youth-driven rebellion against a type of free market capitalism that should’ve stayed in the 19th century and died after the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Neoliberalism has bled this country, Europe and the United States dry. Young people are now faced with growing up in a world where they will be less well-off than their parents were before them.
It is for this reason, in my view, that young people decided to try and exercise their own political power in a bid to save their futures from poverty, servitude and environmental destruction.
Corbyn offered young people an alternative to neoliberalism; something that has not been offered for some time now.
Commenting on the re-emergence of neoliberalism in the 1970s, German philosopher Wolfgang Streeck said:
‘[C]apitalist firms and those that own and run them can only for so long be treated as patient cogs in a collectively serviceable machine. Then, their true nature must come to the fore again, revealing them to be the live predators that they are, for which politically-imposed social obligations are nothing but bars of a cage bound to become too small for them and for their insatiable desire for the hunt’.
Well, the wolves have been loose for some time now.
And they’re at our doors. Hungry.