Young people find Corbyn appealing because the system is no longer working for them in the way it did for previous generations.
Source: The GuardianAmid cabinet chaos on Brexit and the debate over whether chlorinated chicken is acceptable, there are three things we are sure of. The Labour party isn’t in government; Jeremy Corbyn is not negotiating Brexit; and the Conservatives were the ones who called the EU referendum in the first place. Despite these facts, I have lost count of the hard-line, high-profile remainers describing Corbyn’s position as a “betrayal” of the young people who voted for him, an assumption predicated on the fact that the majority of us young people voted remain.
Labour’s position is to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union, but Corbyn has refused to commit the party explicitly to remaining inside the single market. Those describing this “betrayal” – who tend to be middle aged and middle class – are generally either second-guessing how young people feel, or telling us how we should feel: angry at Corbyn.
But above all else, as Momentum’s latest video cleverly highlighted, young people are getting a raw deal right now. Yes, many are annoyed about Brexit, but most accept that it’s happening: 49% of 18 to 24-year-olds either voted to leave or respect the result of the referendum, compared with 30% who want it overturned. If we include 25 to 49-year-olds, an age group that also saw a massive swing to Labour in the general election, that rises to 55% who voted for Brexit or accept that the result has to be respected, and that the government must now negotiate a departure.
But even for those who want the result overturned, to assume that the single market, or the institutional arrangements we have with the EU is some sort of deal-breaker between young people and Corbyn is a colossal misreading, to say the least.
When there is a housing crisis, an NHS crisis and a social care crisis, when schools are asking parents to chip in so they can pay teachers, when wages are declining in real terms, and when university tuition fees have spiralled, there are many reasons why young people find Corbyn appealing – and they have nothing to do with Brexit. That’s because the system is no longer working for young people in the way it did for previous generations who enjoyed free university, a housing market that worked for them, rising wages and living standards, and properly funded public services.
The way many commentators from those generations rattle on about how Corbyn’s position on the single market is going to “cost him young people’s votes” serves only to prove how little they understand young people, our priorities, and how used to compromising we are – particularly young people on the left. Politics has very rarely given us anything we want (the EU referendum was just another example), so we’re hardly going to storm off like petulant children because we might not get everything we want from Brexit.
So while the referendum helped politicise young people, this has not manifested itself in a desire to stop Brexit at the expense of everything else. At the last general election, only Labour was offering the sort of transformational programme that is in our interests. Hard-line remainers tend to argue that if we do not stay in the single market, there will be no choice but to impose austerity due to the ensuing recession, rendering much of Labour’s manifesto undeliverable.
But if you accept the premise that austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity – that cutting spending is counterproductive as it inhibits growth, whereas investment can boost it – then that approach must also apply to a recession if we happen to be outside the single market. So they will need to try a bit harder if they want to drive a wedge between Corbyn and his supporters: threatening young Labour voters with renewed austerity, and implying that Labour’s position on Brexit will have helped cause it, simply doesn’t stack up.