LONDON - As the political instability in Britain continues, pollsters say last week’s election appears to have marked a watershed moment. Young people voted in big numbers – with some estimates suggesting turnout soared from 44 percent in 2015 to as much as 72 percent this year – and most voted for the left-wing Labour party. Activists say they have taken inspiration from other political movements across the globe.
Ben Noble and James Fox work at a radio station in Brighton. Outside work hours, they are committed Labour party activists. They’re celebrating a big win.
The Labour candidate in Brighton Kemptown beat the incumbent Conservative MP by some 10,000 votes – a 10 percent swing. Pollsters say the youth vote was behind Labour’s surge.
Speaking to VOA on Brighton’s windy seafront, Ben Noble said the election has destroyed myths about young people.
“It’s simply not true that the young vote are uninformed or ignorant. In fact maybe we’re more engaged than anyone else because we see news through Facebook and Twitter,” he said.
Inspired by Bernie Sanders
In the social media battle, Labour crushed its rivals. Of the top 100 shared political news stories, just five were pro-Conservative. Many youth activists took inspiration from Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the United States to become the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential candidate. Labour activist James Fox says he narrowly lost to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – but galvanized left-leaning, young voters.
“I’d never been involved with an election campaign. And seeing the Bernie campaign, how that worked, I was like, I know if it’s going to happen that’s the only way I can make it happen,” he said.
Noble said younger people have watched the rise of global right-wing politics with alarm.
“There’s a sense of urgency as well because we saw what happened in America. A lot of us didn’t like it. We saw what nearly happened with Le Pen in France. And I think it’s scary times internationally,” he said.
The Labour vote surged in university towns like Brighton – where many students were attracted by the party’s pledge to scrap annual $12,000 tuition fees. The election laid bare Britain’s generational divide. Pensioners Barbara and Ann accuse Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of making promises the country can’t afford.
“He just won them for the youngsters, what he’s put on, what he’s going to do for the youngsters," said Barbara. "And where is the money going to come from?”
Ann said, “I do feel sorry for the young though. We certainly had it a lot better as we were growing up.”
Hopeful about future
Young Labour supporters see a brighter future with Jeremy Corbyn.
“They’ve shown that there’s a pathway to a Labour government," said Fox. "And everyone before that was saying, ‘You’re never going to be in power.’”
Nobel said, “It’s also a vindication of left-wing policies. Left-wing policies have come alive again.”
Labour is still not in power. But the close result means another early election is possible. And the party’s young supporters believe the momentum is with them.