Keir Starmer’s recent declaration that ‘this party is under new management’ was effective. But when voting Labour is more about being young than working class, can the party really count on a place at Number 10?
Time and time again this year we’ve heard so many spewing the same line that ‘Corbyn just wasn’t electable’ that his breed of left-wing politics was ‘out-of-touch’ or a ‘fantasy’ as the Tory-in-disguise Tony Blair said in December.
Bitterly destroyed in the voting booth only to see his socialist programmes adopted on a mammoth scale some four months later (albeit in spectacularly irregular circumstances), it wasn’t his policies that cost him a place at Number 10, but his followers.
Sure, his campaign wasn’t perfect, or even closely as invigorating as the preceding one in 2017, when Corbyn turned around an inevitable Conservative landslide to a precarious minority government in as little as six weeks.
Labour’s humble beginnings
Labour grew from trade unions and socialist parties, it was, and is in its very nature and in name, a working-class party designed to represent the masses. Embedded in its very core are values of social democracy, large government, nationalisation and responsibility and empathy for those who cannot provide for themselves. It was and is still, positioned as the party for the people, or rather: ‘for the many, not the few’.
One need only look at the history behind Labour MPs and their previous professions to understand where they have traditionally gained their votes. Roughly 25 per cent of Labour MPs since 1951 have been manual workers, another 25 per cent being teachers. On the contrary, the largest chunk of Conservative MPs’ professions have been Company Directors (24 per cent) and Military Professionals (20 per cent).
The contrast is obvious, class-lines have divided the parties for a generation. Labour has a strong pedigree; working men and women, who want to elect their fellows to represent their interests in governments. But, the last two elections have shown that class is no longer the indicator of voting intentions.
Brexit and Young Voters
The cataclysmic event of Brexit has blown voting demographics apart. Age has now become the key indicator of voting intention, not class, so Labour can no longer depended on the very roots of their existence for support. Put simply, the political spectrum has been shattered altogether.
We, the young have grown up in a generation like no other (as every generation before us did too). A period of exceptional technological development has made us all experts and introverts. But our generation is a volatile and unreliable source of votes for Labour, who cannot be counted upon for two reasons.
Firstly, voter turnout amongst the young in 2019 was incredibly low. YouGov compiled a study assessing the turnout in constituents with varying age profiles. The constituencies with the oldest proportion of voters (65 and over at 33 per cent) had a 71.4 per cent turnout — 4.1 percentage points above the national average. The constituencies with the youngest proportion of voters (65 and over at 12 per cent) had the lowest turnout; 64.5 per cent, 2.8 points below the national average.
Further studies suggested that only 47 per cent of voters aged 18-24 turned out to vote, compared with 74 per cent of the over-65s. Quite clearly, young people didn’t show up in the numbers one would have hoped. I myself know a few with a vocal disposition for the government who didn’t bother to show up to the voting booth. Young people don’t entertain the same faith in the democratic process as the old. Perhaps it is a distrust in the whole thing — a disinterest. Or maybe it’s a lack of life experience. Each individual will have their own reason, but this disposition towards voting was hugely costly to Labour who needed the support of their new, key demographic to stand a chance of beating the Brexiter-in-Chief, Boris Johnson.
Perhaps, this very laissez-faire approach indicates an entirely different aspect and equally as unreliable characteristic of today’s young; arrogance. Speaking to one former Labour voter, he put it quite plainly:
‘Labour used to be for the working class, now it’s just for the narcissistic socialists who think they’re better than everyone’.
This in itself indicates that the young are not only not voting in the numbers they should, but withholding support for the party they seemingly represent.
The Young of today are certainly more intelligent than ever. The average child with a smartphone has more access to information than Bill Clinton did in the most powerful job on earth, some 20 years ago. We are all Wikipedia experts, able to illumine our peers and seniors with an onslaught of information on any given topic in seconds. We are better educated; university is more accessible than ever before; and, we live at home for longer as homes in general become more expensive so we choose to delay parenthood. All this would suggest a more self-indulged individual, focusing on themselves rather than improving society. Perhaps the lack of responsibility has allowed self- and peer-reflection to be embed deeper into the consciousness, giving us a sense of ‘wokeness’ in spite of, but not in line with, generations from before.
It is true that the Boomers are commonly viewed as the generation responsible for today’s problems. The first cohort of true excess, of the new materialistic world. Holidays of plenty, clothes of plenty, white goods, cars, TVs, stereos, phones and fast food; all the things which our generation are slowly turning their back on, in favour of a worldview of simplicity, the organic, home-grown, and equality.
Does this in itself bring in a sense of arrogance? A sort-of narcissistic view that our moral compass is on point; that we are ‘woke’ against the ills of generations gone by?
Perhaps then, with a growing focus on oneself, the young have not dashed to the cry of the Tories but have become reluctant to vote all together. And in turn, the ‘wokeness’ has repelled further support for the socialist cause, as it is now the young that represent Labour and not the working class. After all, the young are typically liberal, open-minded globalists, and generally feel as though their view of the world is better than their parents’. And yet, they also feel less obligation and desire to vote.
A volatile mix which can only reduce the chance of support for Labour. Ultimately, the landslide victory of the Conservative Party in December 2019 is not that surprising. Whether Starmer can manage to galvanise support from traditional working-class voters, or gain loyalty from the young, remains deeply questionable.