Why the young have taken a 68-year-old career politician to their heart
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:46 22 February 2018
The young voted overwhelmingly for the UK to stay in the European Union.
The young backed Labour and Jeremy Corbyn at last year’s general election.
And yet the Conservatives remain in power and Britain is leaving Europe.
Putting political beliefs to one side, it is understandable that many younger voters feel their voice is not being heard. The life progression their parents enjoyed – stable career, mortgage – has changed.
It is likely that many 18 year olds today will not enjoy a better standard of living than their parents.
But amid all the disruption and confusion of modern politics in Britain, an unlikely hero has emerged: a 68-year-old, slightly dishevelled, career politician. And yet he has a rock-star following and even his own chant.
What is it that attracts young people to Mr Corbyn?
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman has been vocal about his desire to attract the next generation of Conservative voters to the party. And new party chairman and Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis is working hard to improve the appeal of Theresa May’s government to the young.
And yet it appears Labour – or more specifically Corbyn – does not even have to try.
Norwich South MP, and shadow minister for the treasury, Clive Lewis thinks there are a number of factors involved.
“When I go around to schools I ask the question ‘do you find young people are now more engaged with politics?’ And whether it is a nursery school or a college the answer is always an unequivocal ‘yes’.
“I then ask ‘why?’ And the answer is the EU, Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. And the fact that politics is shaking on its foundations. The consensus they have lived with for all their lives is changing.
“I was out for dinner with Jeremy and his wife last week and he was stopped by mainly young people and there was a group of grime artists. What other MP gets stopped by grime artists? Politics has become interesting and they feel like Jeremy is one of them.”
But pop and politics have often mixed. Twenty years ago the biggest artists of the day we invited to meet new prime minister Tony Blair at Number 10. What makes grime’s – an urban music genre – love of Mr Corbyn any different from Noel Gallagher backing Labour in 1997?
“There is a difference between the way the Britpop artists in the mid-90s supported Blair and the way grime has embraced Labour and Jeremy now,” Mr Lewis said.
“Although grime has started to break into the mainstream it is still very much under the surface. It is still a bit like punk was in the 70s. The thing with Britpop was in many ways it was establishment pop. Them saying to Blair ‘we have an affinity’ was really just one part of the establishment talking to another.
“Grime is counter-culture. It is more gritty and urban. It is about the under dog, the down trodden. It is about discontent and reflecting on your life. These artists are talking about stop and search and drugs and gangs – as well as love of course. The fact that Corbyn has been connected to this means there is something different going on.”
The Conservatives have traditionally struggled to get students and the under 30s onside. But is Labour just the only alternative rather than a better option for them?
“If you look at where the support for Corbyn’s Labour comes from and where the support for the Tories comes from it is clear we have more young people on our side,” Mr Lewis said.
“Many young people do not buy into the old nationalist view. They see themselves as people of the world. They are more open and engaged. Things as simple as the fact they play video games online with people all over the world make a difference. They are more international and outward looking. Pulling down the draw bridge on the EU makes no sense to them.”
But it is not just Brexit that Mr Lewis believes has rallied the young to back his party: “Most young people these days don’t have aspirations like they used to. They don’t think ‘I want to be a journalist’ or I want to work in this or that. That is an almost nihilistic ‘that is just the way it is’ kind of belief. It is very sad to me.”
Add to this tuition fees and the Conservative Party is facing a huge problem. The government needs a big policy to tempt young people away from Labour. Their fears over student debt is the obvious solution.