What “strong and stable” really means…
Last night’s election result in the UK was a victory for the young. The final results are still coming in but it seems that young voters (you need to be at least 18 to vote in UK Parliamentary elections) were a decisive part of the vote against Theresa May’s government. 16 and 17 year-olds were able to vote in the Scottish independence reference in 2014, and it is likely that if they had also been able to vote in the UK’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, then the young (and the rest of us) would not now face the prospect of losing our burgundy passports, a falling pound, 2-3% inflation and a slumping economy.
The critique of the young has always been that they are passionate advocates online, they delight in witty memes but when it comes to election day – they do not walk into the church hall, community centre or sports club (or wherever the polling centre might be) and vote. The old-fashioned act of putting a pencil cross on a piece of paper was thought to be too “old school” for the young. The talk against the young was at best patronising but often much worse. Even overnight, mainstream politicians, including some members of Jeremy Corbyn’s own party, were maligning the young for falling naively for the sweet bribes of no tuition fees, ending zero hours contracts and showing reluctance to maintain nuclear weapons. “There is no magic money tree” was a favourite remark of Prime Minister May during the campaign – as if she was reading a cautionary fairy story to young people everywhere.
To get a flavour of the arrogance – read one of many commentaries in the Murdoch-owned press or the ever spiteful Daily Mail (a paper that revels in ephebiphobia and every other type of fear and prejudice, not least its front page this week basically insinuating that Jeremy Corbyn was a friend of terrorists).
But despite, and may be because of this prejudice, 72% of 18-25 year-olds voted last night, a higher percentage than the general population and they voted for their futures. They voted against a “Hard Brexit” and virtually everything else that Theresa May represented, from the return to selective education (“Grammar Schools”) to her recent threats to undermine our nation’s commitment to internationally-recognised human rights.
Theresa May’s minority government is likely to limp on for the months ahead with the support of Unionists in Northern Ireland. Her government is in no position to negotiate on Brexit and in many ways she has lost her mandate to do so. David Cameron’s referendum on EU membership was self-serving, as was this recent unneeded and premature election. On both occasions, they have been called out by the electorate.
The young will now have a more powerful voice in British politics and they will need to be listened to more attentively by all the political parties. This is perhaps what “strong and stable” really means. The recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge were in large part an attack against the young. Their response is not one of hatred, xenophobia and retreat, but quite the opposite. Think no further than Ariana Grande’s “OneLove” Manchester concert last weekend for the victims murdered at her show two weeks earlier, watched in by 10.9m, 49% of the total UK audience, with 22.6m watching at least three minutes of the broadcast. Her closing words were: “I think the kind of love and unity you’re displaying is the kind of medicine the world needs right now. Thank you for coming tonight, I love you so much, thank you.”