What was thought to be an easy victory
The temptation for Theresa May to gain a super majority in the House of Commons proved too tempting to ignore. Reneging on her promise that an election would not be called before 2020, the Prime Minister announced a surprise snap general election to take place on the 8th of June. In calling the election, May and the Conservatives are hoping to wipe out Labour seats throughout England and Wales and gain an even stronger mandate for negotiating a hard Brexit.
Even more so than in 2010 and 2015, this election has been characterised by a clear ideological schism. On the left you have Corbyn’s Labour Party offering a progressive socialist agenda for the 21st century. Labour’s manifesto proposes fully-costed redistributive policies that aim at tackling the myriad of material inequalities within the UK. The Conservative’s are yet to produce a cohesive vision for the nation beyond arguing that a May victory will grant the UK an even stronger mandate in Brexit negotiations. This lack of vision has led to the Conservatives relying on a campaign of negativity, resulting in what the Spectator has called the worst campaign ever.
Failing to adequately adapt to the altered political landscape, the Conservative’s “master of dark arts” Lyntton Crosby has repeated his strategy from the 2015 campaign of singling out the Labour leader for personal attack and repeating simplistic and mainly negative sound-bites. One of the central tenants of Conservative’s this campaign has been their drive to pit the generations against one-another in an attempt to devalue calls for universalisation and the mobilisation of state institutions in reducing inequality through state spending.
Ten years of Tory austerity has disproportionately targeted the young and exacerbated the generational divide. This is evident in one of the latest YouGov poll published two weeks ago showing that under 34s were more likely to vote for Labour over the Conservatives. This statistic reveals the generational divide between support for the two parties and the diverging approaches used by Labour and the Conservatives in targeting specific demographics. Whereas Labour seek to build a coalition of young and non-voters, those who have been disenfranchised with the entire political system, the Conservatives seek to drive a wedge between the old and young through the odious logic of austere household economics. This narrative structures reality around the axioms that the old cannot have their material needs met unless it is at the expense of the young. By taking the so called “grey vote” for granted, the Conservatives have proposed to get rid of the pension “triple lock” on Basic state pensions, means-testing winter fuel allowance and forcing them to pay for home care.
The young’s modest demands for the economy to be readjusted towards a more equitable balance have been met by contempt from the neo-liberal establishment. The material interests of neo-liberals in maintaining a de-regulated low wage economy has been infused with the discourse of singling out the young as a uniquely feckless generation who demand “too much”.
Millennials face demeaning stereotypes
Lord Alan Sugar, host of the UK’s Apprentice and ex-Labour Peer who left the party after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader embodies such hostility to the modest demands of politicised millennials. Lord Sugar tweeted that:
Sugar’s essentialist claims about millennials being innately lazy are old conservative tropes that describe the citizen’s relation to the state as parasitic rather than complementary. This line of attack has been recycled by the Conservative’s who have argued that Labour’s manifesto promises to give out “free money” from the invisible “money tree” to the feckless young and undeserving poor. This is not only a child-like conception of politics and economics of the state operating like a household with fixed cost and income, but more insidiously misrepresents Labour’s proposals for re-jigging the economy towards a economic equilibrium.
How will this be achieved? Unlike the Conservative manifesto, the Labour Party have produced a fully costed document that proposes a small tax increase to the wealthiest five per-cent in our society, closing Tory tax loop-holes, reversing corporation tax, taxing off-shore property, VAT on private schools, a 0.5% stamp duty on derivatives trading and a clamp down on tax-avoidance.
These policies have been calculated to produce £49.8 billion, enough to abolish crippling tuition fees, to nationalise the rail, energy and water sectors, bringing prices under governmental control and capping excessive price increases. Re-nationalise Royal Mail and put an extra £6 billion into the NHS.
The manifesto also promises an extra £8 billion on social care, the creation of regional development banks to help small businesses, a doubling of paternity leave time and pay and scraping the Tory Trade Union Act.
What has drawn young people to support Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is not only the proposed abolition of tuition fees but increasing the minimum wage to a living wage of £10 per hour and outlawing zero-hour contracts that have left many young people in the grip of precarious employment with an insecure wage and hours at the behest of their employer. Labour has also proposed to build 100,000 council houses per year, suspend the Tory policy of selling off council houses and cap rent increases to inflation. As young people are more likely to rent.
Neo-liberals on the centre left and right have primed themselves on managing down expectations. Emergent leftists like Corbyn are popular because they have shown us what we should demand from politics and what is possible. Politics is not a stagnant chessboard where “experts” have already predetermined inflexible rules of the game; politics is not technocracy where bureaucrats aim to ensure the smooth circulation of traffic and the maintenance of a mechanised social and economic system. Politics is the mobilisation and collective expression of the people. Corbyn’s Labour have initiated the process of reaching out to the young, whatever the result beyond the election it is vital that the young continue to expand democratic engagement beyond the traditional confines of politics and build a sustainable power base rooted in a new civic and political culture.