‘Stop Explaining Away Why And How Young People Voted’

We weren't 'bribed' with the promise of an end to tuition fees - we voted for the party that understood just how grim it is for young people right now

'Stop Explaining Away Why And How Young People Voted'

by Natasha Wynarczyk |
Published on

Us apathetic Millennials, with our obsessions with our smart phones and our love of spending all of our money on avocado brunches instead of buying houses, always wanting something for nothing and never bothering to register and turn out to vote. ‘Stop moaning, young people,’ we were told time and time again after the EU Referendum, ‘if you wanted to stay in the EU then you should have voted’. Never mind that it was later proved that youth turnout was much higher than originally believed , the general consensus was that we had been lazy and we had no right to complain about the result.

However, now the dust from last week’s General Election has slowly begun to settle and Theresa May desperately tries to form a government propped up by the DUP, it’s clear that it was the ‘young wot won it’. Although the stat doing the rounds that turnout amongst 18-24 year olds was as high as 72% is unconfirmed (and might well be an Internet rumour), it's clear that we - young people - were far from apathetic this time round. Why? Because the Labour Party, and in particular leader Jeremy Corbyn, inspired and galvanised youth voters. He captured their (our) imaginations and attentions in a way that other leaders haven’t for a very long time – and it was amazing.

Except, now we have turned out, voted, developed our interests in politics, a lot of people aren’t happy. They are vexed because the election didn’t go the way they want it, there’s no mandate for a hard Brexit now, and young people are the ones they blame. We can’t win – we don’t turn out to vote and we are branded lazy, we do go and vote and we are ‘brainwashed leftie students’ or ‘special, entitled snowflakes’, or we are told that we only voted a certain way because our friends told us to, because of course we are unable to think for ourselves.

I’ve seen people crowing about raising the voting age to 21 because they don’t think we are capable of making our own decisions. I’m very pro lowering it to 16 – if you can pay income tax and national insurance, get married and join the army, then you can go to a ballot box and make an informed decision about who to vote for. I’ve known very politically-astute and engaged 17-year-olds, and people who are 45 and have no idea about what they are talking about.

One article I saw that really got my goat following the election was written by Times columnist Clare Foges (also David Cameron’s former speechwriter). Her piece Stop Treating the Young as Political Sages (paywall) tackled the votes at 21 issue then launched into a hatchet job on young left-wing voters.

The main crux of her argument was this – young voters’ judgment in this election was ‘helplessly naïve’, and that we should be ‘challenging the unaffordable views of many under-25s, not knowing to them’. She then, like a few other political commentators, both amateur and professional, blames the Labour manifesto policy of getting rid of university fees as being the main reason why younger voters were swayed. The Daily Mail, for example, referred to it as the ‘£11bn tuition fees bribe’. It's a lazy, simplistic view that misses the point.

I can’t speak for every other young Labour voter, of course, and I’m not denying that unaffordable tuition fees are a major youth issue – you only have to cast your mind back to the 2010 student protests to know that. But many of us young voters have already finished university, we already are saddled with the debt and ever-increasing interest rates after the Tories sold off our student loans without our consent – and aside from family members or our future children going to university we won’t see the personal benefit of that policy, it isn’t enough of a ‘bribe’ to get Millennials into polling stations. And anyway, the jury's out on whether ditching tuition fees would be the solution we need anyway - something which the Labour-voting youth are perfectly capable of considering.

But one thing that Labour, as well as SNP, Green and Liberal Democrat did do, was offer young people policies just for them. Whether it be Labour’s idea of restoring the Education Maintenance Allowance or the Lib Dems saying they would reinstate housing benefit for 18-21-year-olds, they actually bothered to consider young people in their manifestos. In contrast, I certainly couldn’t really find anything relevant to me in the Conservative manifesto. By ignoring young people entirely, the Tories treated us with contempt, while the other parties treated us like an important section of the electorate, hoping to make an informed decision.

And crucially, Labour offered optimism and change - in the Labour manifesto, Corbyn promised he had come up with policies ‘for the many, not the few’. The manifesto wasn’t a ‘free for all paradise’, it was backed by economistsand costed (unlike the Conservatives, who couldn't even be bothered to get a calculator out and do the sums) . Corbyn’s vision protected our NHS, and said it would invest in housing, social care and education – funded by taxing the richest people in this country, aka the people who can actually afford to pay their tax bills and should be. His vision for the country promised that things would improve, and life didn't have to be so hard for everyone apart from the super wealthy. The Tories told us things were going to get harder, and we had to lump it because that's just the way it is. In the process, they failed to grasp that for plenty of young people, things are already pretty grim right now. Why would anyone vote for the status quo, when the status quo is shit?

It’s true that we haven’t been around or paid in to the system as long as our parents have, but when our parents’ generation had their free university education and their grants or were able to get their foot on the housing ladder in their early 20s they hadn’t paid into the system yet either. They took what they were given for free and pulled the ladder up behind them. So many of us graduate from university with £27,000 worth of debt, end up paying £500 in letting agency fees and if we want to, we have to delay three major stages of ‘growing up’ – buying a house, getting married or starting a family – because we simply cannot afford it. Corbyn’s manifesto gave us hope that it wouldn’t always have to be that way for us – and that’s why we turned out on 8 June.

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Follow Natasha on Twitter @tash_wynarczyk

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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