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Elliott Pearce argues that Corbyn’s election campaign did not trick young people into voting for Labour – and that such claims against the reasoning behind young people’s voting habits will backfire against the likes of Theresa May, who fails to give us enough credit.

Since the huge increase in youth turnout which helped Labour unexpectedly gain seats and wipe out the Tories’ majority in the recent general election, opponents of Labour have started a new narrative of betrayal to counter the party’s strong popularity among young voters.

Having been a key figure in the Liberal Democrats when they broke their promise on tuition fees, presumably [Vince] Cable considers himself to be something of an expert on the matter of betraying young voters.

First came the claims that naïve youngsters had voted for Labour to stop ‘hard Brexit’ in its tracks, but had failed to grasp that this is what Corbyn had been secretly scheming for all along. In a recent article, Vince Cable asserted that ‘Labour won over young voters. But it is betraying them on Brexit’, and that young people ‘may not know that Jeremy Corbyn ordered his troops into the division lobbies to support the extreme Conservative-UKIP Brexit’. Having been a key figure in the Liberal Democrats when they broke their promise on tuition fees, presumably Cable considers himself to be something of an expert on the matter of betraying young voters.

Then, after shadow chancellor John McDonnell appeared on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show and stated that while Labour wanted to reduce the burden of student debt, they were unable at this stage to make a firm pledge or announce a concrete policy to deal with the issue, fresh stories of Labour’s treachery began to emerge. ‘Shameful John McDonnell says Labour scrapping tuition fees may be “promise he can’t keep”’, cried The Express, while the official Conservative Twitter page began spreading news of the ‘betrayal’ almost non-stop.

However, these attacks are dishonest and unlikely to fool many. When it comes to Brexit, Labour have promised to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals, ruled out the destructive ‘no deal’ outcome, and kept open the option of remaining within the customs union, all of which clearly differentiates their stance from that of the Tories. Promising not to use the lives of 3 million EU citizens living in the UK as bargaining chips in a negotiation can hardly be viewed as an insignificant policy difference between Labour and the Tories; therefore the claim that the two parties are colluding to bring about an extreme Brexit is laughable.

Perhaps trust in politicians would be greater if more were willing to set out their objectives and ambitions whilst acknowledging that achieving them may be complicated in practice, rather than making pledges that they aren’t absolutely certain they can afford.

The ‘betrayal’ on student debt turns out to be nothing of the sort when you read Labour’s manifesto; a pledge to abolish student debt is nowhere to be found. Jeremy Corbyn did one interview with NME, where he said ‘yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage’. He never made a firm pledge to abolish all debt, but rather said he would look at possible ways to mend a clearly unsustainable system, where the poorest students are leaving university with £57,000 of debt, and more than half of student debt will not be paid back. Perhaps trust in politicians would be greater if more were willing to set out their objectives and ambitions whilst acknowledging that achieving them may be complicated in practice, rather than making pledges that they aren’t absolutely certain they can afford.

However, these claims of betrayal won’t just fail to win back young voters from Labour because they clearly lack any truth, or because few young people trust the mainstream media. For the most part, they won’t work because the vast majority of young people didn’t vote for Labour to stop Brexit, nor had they been ‘bribed’ by the pledge to abolish tuition fees. They were won over by the vision as a whole that Corbyn persuasively put forward; that a decent society run in the interests of the majority is possible to achieve.

Our generation is being condemned increasingly to a life of poverty and economic insecurity as a result of Tory policies.

Policies like scrapping tuition fees were important in winning support from the young insofar as they fitted into this broader message of change. Our generation is being condemned increasingly to a life of poverty and economic insecurity as a result of Tory policies, as demonstrated by a damning new report from the Resolution Foundation. This report shows how under 35s have been frozen out of home ownership due to low wages and high prices, and have failed to see incomes return to pre-financial crisis levels.

Interviews with young voters…indicate those who voted for Labour did so largely out of opposition to various effects of austerity; so their support for Labour cannot be boiled down to single issues like tuition fees.

Therefore, Labour pledges to combat these issues, such as outlawing zero-hour contracts, introducing a genuine living wage, sharply increasing the number of new homes being built and promoting public ownership of utilities, were highly important as well in winning over youth support. Interviews with young voters, conducted by The Tab, indicate those who voted for Labour did so largely out of opposition to various effects of austerity; so their support for Labour cannot be boiled down to single issues like tuition fees.

From my experience, the shameless scapegoating of immigrants by leading Brexiteers angered many of my peers. The Tories can accuse Corbyn of betrayal all they like, but this will do little to change the disdain that many young people feel for the increasingly xenophobic and nationalistic direction of their party. For a generation that values multiculturalism, tolerance and social equality more than any other, ending vans emblazoned around with ‘go home or face arrest’ into communities with high migrant populations is unlikely to gain much approval.

So until the Liberal Democrats and the Tories pursue policies that don’t disproportionately damage young people, and until they develop a positive vision that appeals to them, they will win few votes from them. Taking them for fools by promoting the implausible message that Corbyn is betraying them, while failing to acknowledge the damage done by policies like burdening students with huge debts, will only backfire and further damage their image among the younger generation.


Did Labour’s promise to abolish tuition fees sway impact your decision to vote for/against them? Let us know in the comments or via social media.

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