The night of June 8th offered an underdog tale that could rival a Hollywood blockbusters. Faced with an initial 21 percent gap with the Tories, an onslaught of media defamation, and internal party infighting, the Labour Party under Corbyn secured a historic increase in vote share of 9.6 percent – the biggest increase since 1945. Theresa May’s snap election was initially expected to guarantee a widespread Conservative majority. It has instead ended with the Conservatives losing their majority in parliament, and forced May into an alliance with anti-gay, anti-women, terrorist sympathisers. In the iconic words of rapper and life coach DJ Khaled: congratulations, Theresa, you played yourself.
Youth turnout in the election is seen to be a major factor in overturning the projected Tory bloodbath. While the accuracy of initial figure of 72% youth turnout is still contested, it is undeniable that the Labour campaign mobilised youth activism at record-breaking levels. Grime4Corbyn, which saw musicians such as JME take over Corbyn’s Snapchat account, was credited with engaging traditionally marginalised voices. Before the registration deadline, 1.76 million voters under 35 registered to vote; a giant surge compared to the 1.39 million figure of 2015. One story can speak louder than a thousand statistics: a widely-circulated tweet on the day of June 8th relates: ‘Massive queue of under 30s at my local polling station. Old woman turned to her friend and said, ‘this is what we feared.’
The Labour Party has, however, generally enjoyed broad support among the youth. What was x-factor that helped energise the youth in this election, defying all expectations? A Grime4Corbyn organiser Sofia told a Guardian reporter at a London pro-Corbyn event: “Growing up on a council estate in east London, grime music empowered me because it made me feel: We might be from the slums, but we can make amazing music. And now we’ve got a politician who says: ‘No! There shouldn’t be slums! In the fifth-richest nation in the world, there’s no reason that you’ve got people in Tower Hamlets growing up in poverty.”
Corbyn and The Establishment
What gave Corbyn an edge over his Labour predecessors; Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, and Tony Blair, is that while the latter were often seen as product of the Oxbridge elite, Corbyn was regarded as a man of the people. June 8th has ushered in a new era of grassroots politics, and has signalled the demise of Tony Blair’s former centrist ‘New Labour’ movement. ( ‘New Labour’ was initially pioneered as a remedy to the party’s many defeats in the 80’s; faced by a never-ending set of losses, Labour modernisers sought ways to break away from the party’s traditional democratic, socialist roots and embrace a more ‘pragmatic’ third way that was friendlier to market capitalism. This trend occurred worldwide: in the US, Bill Clinton surged to power in 1992 on a more ‘pragmatic’ democratic party platform that broke away from traditional leftist values.)
Centrism has failed us
Centrism, after all, has failed us. The ‘pragmatic third-way’ that has come to overtake the Left in the West has proven inadequate to curb the soaring social injustice that affect us all, with the already substantial gap between the rich and poor continuing to grow. The failures of these centrist elites to deliver on promises of social justice (perhaps they were too busy profiting from the system they were supposedly fighting) has led to a widespread backlash. In November 2016, Americans voted against the continuation of a limpid, centrist political dynasty (unfortunately they opted for a racist, incompetent authoritarian who at least had the creativity to offer something resembling a novel political vision). David Cameron’s campaign against Brexit fear-monger the public about the importance of British ‘economic stability’: you really do have to be very out of touch, I think, to believe that people would rally around to protect an systematically unfair economic system that has forced people out of their homes, denied social care, and loaded them with soaring debt.
What was noteworthy about Brexit and Trump is just how wrong the establishment were in their predictions. Labour’s stunning return on June 8th has further revealed the ‘safe space’ of the out-of-touch establishment, who had, even up until the morning of the election, routinely criticised the ‘unelectability’ of Corbyn, predicted a strong revival for May’s leadership, and called for a need to return to a centrist Third Way. Too often the youth have been saddled with slurs of being ‘special snowflakes’ who cannot consider alternative ideas. This is the greatest irony of all: the ignorance of the media and political elite has demonstrated that it is they, not millennials, who truly are the out-of-touch ‘snowflakes’ insulated by their own privilege, desperate to remain in their own safe spaces against the different passions of the 99% (a prime example of ‘special snowflake syndrome’ uncomfortable with ‘alternative ideas’? They’re now going out to say that Corbyn’s surge demonstrates the dangers of ‘too much democracy’).
Corbyn’s campaign changed the rules of the game. It offered genuine hope and, for the first time in years, articulated an unapologetic left-wing programme that has returned Labour to its democratic socialist routes. The road forward will be difficult and arduous, but June 8th signalled how, with hope, conviction, and collective organisation, the youth of today can really achieve wonders. Pat yourselves on the backs, and brace yourselves for more challenges to come.
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