Over a million 18-24 year-olds signed up to vote during the 2017 election campaign. A record, in fact. While we have no official figures on youth turnout, despite a figure as high as 72% being bandied around, it is clear that the surge in the young vote that Jeremy Corbyn was counting on happened.
That resultant surge in seats where students made up more than 15% of the electorate helped dethrone Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister, in Sheffield Hallam, and helped Labour take Canterbury - a seat that had been held by the Tory Party since 1918.
The advent of young voters arrived with a vengeance on a whirlwind election night that saw Theresa May’s request for a personal mandate rebuffed by the electorate, who instead handed her a twelve seat loss. And how was this received by members of the political commentariat? Were they not happy to see a previously alienated sector of society finally politically engaged and active? Of course not.
You see, in the minds of dismissive, right-leaning columnists like Mr Iain Martin, Mr Dominic Lawson, and Ms Clare Foges, we, and by that I mean the politically engaged 18 – 24-year-olds, are stupid, naïve, self-interested, and easily persuaded by political gimmicks.
On election day last Thursday, Martin’s column in The Times was titled 'The young don’t know any better than Corbyn'. The gist of it was essentially that young voters had turned to Corbyn because we didn’t know the glories of free market neoliberalism, and were we to be educated on such things, we would all instantly turn into young Thatcherites.
Dominic Lawson’s column in The Sunday Times was even worse. Denouncing Labour’s manifesto as 'free this, free that, free the other', effectively claiming that of course all those who voted Labour did so because of policies such as the abolition of tuition fees, and stating that 'I doubt any political party will again make the mistake of producing a responsible manifesto'. Perhaps he is referring to the manifesto of the Conservative Party, which included an entirely uncosted pledge of £8billion for the NHS, and was so responsible it featured a complete U-turn within days of its announcement?
The insinuation is clear. Young voters were bought, swayed by Jeremy Corbyn’s spending pledges and promises to abolish tuition fees and restore maintenance grants, and herded like sheep. The grand irony here is that if you suggested to these two ardent Brexiteers that anyone voted Leave because of ‘£350million for the NHS’ you’d have been accused of patronising voters’ intelligence. Which is exactly what this garbage is.
The case is not that young people have no experience of the system, but plenty of it. Consider the case of Vicky Spratt. Middle-class, from Surrey, daughter of a banker, educated at Oxford. The seeming antithesis of the radical left, in fact she was a natural Tory who worked for Conservative MPs. Her political views were instead shaped by the world she entered after graduating. Having paid over £2000 in letting agents’ fees by the age of twenty-eight, thanks to being a member of ‘Generation Rent’, she started a petition to scrap unfair fees. It got 258,000 signatures and forced a change in government policy in the 2016 Autumn Statement.
This kind of action is what this generation needs. For too long, we have been neglected at the expense of more politically important demographics like the elderly. We’re in a country where more people are employed than ever before, but fewer have stable jobs than ever before. Where many young people are saddled with thousands of pounds of debt by the age of twenty. And where we face a housing market beset by unaffordable homes and agency fees. We’re not naïve, we’re not stupid, we’re just sick of a system that seems geared against us while the government does nothing about it.
After the result last Thursday, it is evident the Tory Party’s current electoral problems run deeper than simply lacking the support of young voters, but calling us all stupid is not going to help matters. Hopefully 2017 is just the start of a period where young people are no longer taken for granted by politicians, and while the issues are still here, so are we.
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