By Harvey Joyce
As the world of British politics has been engrossed by the pandemic, the interests and grievances of younger people have been cast aside by the majority of politicians. During the Corbyn era, younger voters experienced a rare rejuvenation.
During the 2019 election, Labour beat the Tories among voters aged 18 to 24 by an unprecedented 43%. Corbyn stood out from the slew of Etonian Oxbridge politicians that enwreathe British politics: his rhetoric spoke to many people who previously felt unheard. With the promises of cheaper education, better work contracts and improved social care, many rallied with Corbyn to forge this supposedly new path for Britain.
It turns out this ‘youthquake’ fizzled, and our politics has reverted to the status quo again. Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives continue to prioritise older voters and treat young people with contempt. From the exam chaos in schools to their ignorance of the climate crisis, the Tories’ message to younger Britons has remained unchanged: you don’t matter.
While Johnson keeps creating these partitions, Starmer seems satisfied to remain sitting on the fences, not standing up for the unheard voices in the pandemic. The Labour party are now following a mild centrist approach, concentrating on winning back older voters while offering its younger supporters barely anything.
Some people may argue that Labour is right in following this centrist approach. Statistically and historically, we always see the same thing: young people don’t vote. Despite young Labour supporters overpowering young Conservatives, the turnout of 18 to 24 voters is only 47% compared to 74% for 65+ voters.
There is also the idea that people only vote Labour when they are younger, however, that assumption is mistaken. At every general election from the late 1970s to even 2010, more under-45 voters chose Conservative over Labour. The changing youth mindset, which has also occurred in other European countries and America, is a new feature of modern Western politics.
One reason for the spread of this mentality, despite its lack of electoral success, is the everyday experiences all students face – in particular, zerohours contracts, diminishing job prospects, stagnant wages, exploitative landlordism, and general inequality.
When Starmer stood for leadership, many felt he would be able to strengthen and synthesise the radical Corbyn supporters, as well as attracting older voters, with his perceived competence and formality. Yet it seems he has failed on both ends. Labour Headquarters has been accused of bullying the Young Labour Committee for their support of Corbyn, as well as silencing other influential youth figures in the party. On the other end, Labour has still failed to gain popularity with older voters, the renewed focus on patriotism and the British flag is only a flaccid attempt to win over support.
The problem with Labour’s approach is that inclusivity can become directionless and bland. In belligerent times, as both Johnson and Corbyn came to understand, gaining attention and mobilising voters often involves creating divisions and naming your enemies. Starmer’s inertia has led to Johnson still having a better approval rating despite controversy after controversy.
It is clear that the Labour Party need to increase their support for students and young voters rather than side-lining them. If Labour doesn’t win back young people soon, voters will start to have alternatives. The Green party are more successful in the polls than they have been for years. Even the Conservatives could conceivably appeal to the younger demographic again. In addition, protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion have compelling causes and unorthodox tactics that attract young people and media attention, leaving Labour as the inferior option.
Young voters have decades to decide what their political path will be. But in the fast-paced world of politics, Starmer has far less time.
Image: L: Jeremy Corbyn via Flickr. R: Ehimetalor Akhere via Unsplash