By now we all know the narrative of the June 2017 General Election by heart: May calls a snap election whilst 20+ points ahead in the polls; most of the press and the wider establishment assume a vastly increased Tory majority; Labour is predicted to be utterly wiped out due to its ‘unelectable’ leader; all to be proven wrong as the Tory majority disappears and Labour increases its seats and vote share.
Now I just want to get a disclaimer out early – I am not a devoted Corbynista. I dislike much of his leadership style previous to the election and disagree with his vague attitude to Brexit and some of his specific manifesto points (unpopular opinion: I think our tuition fee system is fairly well managed and should be thought of as more of a ‘graduate tax’ than fees and debt). I am however a Labour supporter and I think Corbyn ran a fantastic populist campaign that deserved even more success than it yielded.
In the days since the election I have been irritated (but not surprised) by the way the Labour gains have been characterised. The estimated high youth turnout should be praised: surely in any democracy, the ideal is to have as large a proportion of the whole population voting as possible! However the youth vote which – largely but not totally – supported Labour has been mocked and belittled. Young people were ‘bribed’ by the offer of free university tuition. They are ‘economically illiterate’ and fell for Corbyn’s ‘Magic Money Tree’ promises. First of all I would like the point out that any manifesto promise is in effect a bribe, an offering for a vote; what else would you call the pension triple lock or winter fuel allowance, for example?
Secondly, the idea that the left-leaning young are all dim idealists is not only insulting but downright wrong, and this is where Brexit becomes relevant. In the EU referendum, 75% of voters aged 18-24 opted for Remain. Before the referendum, Remainers were accused of running ‘Project Fear’ when they predicted a weaker pound, fleeing businesses, a lack of workers, and negative impacts on science, education, the health service and our social care system. While we have not left the EU yet and we do not know the terms we will be leaving on, it is obviously totally unrealistic that we will be able to enjoy the benefits of the single market whilst ending the free movement of people (an argument stated by both Labour and Tory politicians); free trade agreements rely on free movement. We are already seeing the negative effects of our national decision to leave, exemplified by the consistently weaker pound and by the 96% drop in applications for EU nurses to work in the UK this year – and before anyone says this is due to increased language testing, this can’t account for the 68% increase in EU nurses leaving the UK since the vote.
Remain-voting young people were the realists in the EU referendum. We recognised that so-called ‘Project Fear’ was not an exaggeration but the truth. We recognised the undeniable, the good that being a member of the EU has done Britain. We recognised the immense opportunities we had not only as Brits, but as Europeans. We also recognised, in this general election, the extensive damage a decade of Tory rule has done to our country and the further devastation a hard Brexit would cause. When we voted for Labour, we did not vote simply for free university education. It would also be hypocritical of me to say we voted Labour for soft Brexit since, as previously stated, Labour’s Brexit policy was muddled and unclear. However I can tell you what we did vote for. We voted for the NHS, for social care, for education, for science; all things that will be undoubtedly and disgracefully damaged by leaving the EU, but at least were prioritised by Labour. While the Labour manifesto and its leader were not perfect, we recognised that another 5 years of unchecked Conservative rule and the hard Brexit this would bring would offer nothing for anyone in this country: not the youth, nor the middle aged, nor the elderly (unless of course you’re very rich).
Do not infantilise us. Apologise to us for the country we are inheriting – a dismantled NHS, too few nurses, doctors and affordable homes, and recognise that a hard Brexit and a Tory government also doesn’t work for you. Just as an example, when the nurses, doctors and care workers leave (thanks to Brexit) and aren’t replaced due to low pay and high training costs (thanks to the Conservatives), who will take care of you in your old age?