On the 8th of June, my school held a mock election. I was responsible for instructing people at the ‘polling station’ and counting the votes afterwards. Most people at my school could not vote in the real election that day, and were happy to get this chance. The results were revealing.
Of course, there were instances when boys tried to vote UKIP “for a laugh” (UKIP weren’t standing in Edinburgh South West) and others committed electoral fraud. However, I was surprised at the amount of people who made an educated vote and seemed to truly care about their voices being heard. After the real election, Labour MP David Lammy tweeted that 72% of 18-25 year olds had turned out to vote. In both my school’s vote and the general election, one thing seemed to become clear: as far as young people were concerned, Jeremy Corbyn had won.
Usually, most young voters feel disillusioned by politics and therefore youth turnout is always low. So what changed? I asked Ellen Robson, a 15-year-old who was thoroughly engaged in this election: “People have been targeting [the youth vote] more … [Jeremy Corbyn] recognises that they’re the next generation and need to get involved in politics. He’s not like other politicians – he does things because he cares, not for his own political gain.”
Not part of the establishment
This seems to reflect what many young people think: Jeremy Corbyn is not seen as a part of the establishment. In 1984, he got arrested for breaking a protest ban, while campaigning against apartheid. In 2003, he gave a speech at Hyde Park, the largest demonstration in British history, against the Iraq war.
He also appears more authentic than other politicians, as Michael MacLeod, a 20-year-old Corbyn supporter, tells me: “Theresa May was manufacturing what she was going to say … whereas Jeremy Corbyn was talking honestly and openly. Even Tory voters can see he is genuine.”
Jeremy Corbyn rides a bike, which entrenches the idea that he leads a modest life (unlike Boris Johnson, who is still associated with the Bullingdon Club). He owns an allotment in north London, which he tends with care. This creates a huge contrast with the lives that other high-profile politicians lead. Young people respect the fact that he has never been and never will be a part of Boris Johnson and David Cameron’s old boys network.
Tabloids and newspapers also played a big role in the campaign. There were headlines such as “Don’t chuck Britain in the Cor-bin” and “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades” from the Sun. However, young people aren’t usually big readers of the mainstream press. So what was their main source of influence? “Mainly social media,” says MacLeod. And “Jeremy Corbyn doing videos with rappers.”
Indeed, many young people were swayed by their favourite musicians, such as grime artists Akala and JME. JME urged people to vote, saying: “Before you vote, I want you to find out who you should be voting for and why you’re voting for them.” Akala tweeted:
“I am not and probably never will be a Labour supporter. However I will be voting for the first time and I’ll be voting for @jeremycorbyn.”
Labour manifesto offered hope
Seeing these personalities getting so heavily involved in the election, people who had never really done so before, created a sense that it was young people’s turn to have a say. There were also recurring memes about Theresa May’s “fields of wheat” and being “strong and stable”. Young people felt that the Tories were finally being exposed and stripped down to their core on social media. They were the object of ridicule, Theresa May painted as a completely delusional politician.
I asked Grant Aitken, a representative for Scottish Labour Young Socialists, how Corbyn got so much support in so little time. “When he released the manifesto, that was the
turning point,” he says. To young people, Labour’s manifesto conveyed hope, while the Tory manifesto seemed stale. As John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said in a seminar at the David Hume Institute the week after the general election: “[The Conservative manifesto] seemed to be written on the presumption that the Conservatives were going to win the election — therefore we will tell you about all the nasty medicine that we’re going to have to administer.”