The so-called “youthquake” of the 2017 General Election is well documented. A 16% increase in turnout amongst 18-24 year olds, 60% of whom voted Labour, saw Jeremy Corbyn’s party defy expectations and gain seats, bringing an end to Theresa May’s hopes of increasing her majority. With this in mind, it is disappointing that Labour have failed to represent young people’s interests on a regular basis, most notably on Brexit.
Approximately 70% of 18-24 year olds voted remain in the 2016 EU Referendum, while estimates suggest that 59% of the same age group still believe that leaving the EU will turn out to be a mistake. Despite this, Labour’s approach to Brexit has been almost indistinguishable from that of the Conservatives. On several occasions Labour MPs have either voted against or abstained on amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would have either seen the UK remain in the EU Single Market & Customs Union, or given the British people an opportunity to have their say on the final Brexit deal via a referendum. Beyond this, for a party that purports to represent young people, there has been very little defence of our current right to work and live across 28 EU member states through Freedom of Movement. Instead, Jeremy Corbyn has said that “wholesale” EU immigration has destroyed conditions for British workers, a claim that seems more befitting of Nigel Farage than the voice of Britain’s youth. Perhaps all this is to be expected when you consider the Labour leader’s long held euroscepticism, but if it is the case that Jeremy Corbyn lusts after a hard-Brexit in the same way that Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg do, Labour’s current “constructively ambiguous” approach to Brexit appears a far cry from the “straight talking, honest politics” we were promised.
It is not just on Brexit that Labour continues to let down its younger voters. A closer look at what the party has to offer reveals a whole host of disappointments. The party continues to support the failed war on drugs that both criminalises young people and makes our streets more dangerous, its manifesto commitments on the environment lacked detail, and worse of all the party remains committed to the £7bn of welfare cuts planned by the Conservatives since 2015. This means that of all the party manifestos in the 2017 General Election, it was actually the Liberal Democrats’ that did most for the poorest in society, whilst many of Labour’s flagship policies, such as renationalising the railways or scrapping tuition fees, are a benefit predominately for the wealthiest.
We must not allow Labour to see young people as some kind of vote fodder. The undesirable nature of successive Conservative government should not alone be enough of a reason for Labour to expect us to remain loyal. We should make it clear that if the party continues to ignore our concerns, over Brexit or otherwise, then we maintain our right to take our vote elsewhere. The 2018 Local Elections, taking place in various locations across the country in May, present another opportunity for a sizable ‘youthquake” – this time to send Labour a message that we are not to be taken for granted.