In the weeks before the United Kingdom’s June 8 elections, pollsters had predicted that the Labour Party would lose up to 56 seats, handing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives a massive majority in Parliament. In “Don’t Blame Corbyn” (May 25, 2017), I argued that Labour’s poor prospects stemmed not from the party’s leadership but from the demobilization of its traditional base—especially British youth. The percentage of young British people lacking a party affiliation, I noted, leapt from 14.7 percent in 1989 to more than 41 percent in 2014. “If the snap election were decided by the preferences of voters under 40, Labour would be the clear winner,” I wrote. “Yet many of those voters will stay home on election day, and their abstention will be a decisive factor in May’s likely victory.”
Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour bucked these trends. Instead of losing dozens of seats, Labour gained 30, denying May’s party a majority in Parliament and damning Corbyn’s critics to eat their words. From only 43 percent in the 2015 general election, youth turnout rose to 66 percent in last week’s vote, becoming a key component of Labour’s late surge.
Why did Labour outperform among British youth? Three factors were central. The first was policy. For British youth, the election was a referendum not on Brexit but on the welfare state: according to a post-vote poll, whereas 27 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 said that the National Health Service was the “most important issue” in the election, only 15 percent said that Brexit was. (Among voters aged 65 or older, those numbers were flipped: 38 percent for Brexit and just 13 percent for the NHS.) Labour’s election manifesto loudly rejected the Conservatives’ spending cuts. The party pledged the construction of public housing, the nationalization of the railways, and—crucially—free university tuition. This muscular socialism appealed to young voters seeking an alternative to austerity in a way that former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s feebler 2015 platform did not.
Loading, please wait...