Acording to the polls, approximately 70% of 18-24 year olds in Britain cast their vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party during Thursday’s election. The high turn out of young people for the Labour Party has proved to be decisive in denying Theresa May the majority she expected. Corbyn has attracted enthusiastic support from college and university campuses across the United Kingdom, but the epidemic expands further than the usual rabble of excitable students, with Labour leading the polls amongst voters under forty. That so many of the young generation are eager to vote for a Labour Party, who under Corbyn’s leadership betray Britain’s greatest traditions, should leave all conservatives deeply concerned.
The United Kingdom has been unique in Europe for its unwavering faith in markets as the ultimate driver of prosperity and human progress. It is the birth place of the rule of law and parliamentary democracy. It has an historic distaste for revolution and deep reverence for its traditional institutions. Its military is internationally renowned and has been a reliable defender of the free world. Since the end of the Second World War, Britain and America have been the principal advocates of the liberal world order established in the wake of the allied victory. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies despise these enduring principals. John McDonnell, a self-confessed Marxist, has little time for parliamentary democracy, preferring ‘insurrection’ and violent protest as a means of political change. Corbyn has spent 30 years supporting terrorist groups in Ireland and the Middle East. When the IRA sought to achieve their goal of a United Ireland through violence and terror as opposed to the ballot box, they found vocal support from the MP for Islington North. Whilst posing as a champion of justice and human rights, Corbyn has at every turn been an apologist for autocrats such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Fidel Castro in Cuba, as well as oppressive anti-Western regimes like Iran. He refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ and has repeatedly shared platforms with terrorists and anti-Semites. Corbyn and his comrades are united in their anti-British, anti-American and anti-Western world view, backing any enemy of the West, no matter how unpleasant they may be. Corbyn despises institutions such as NATO not because he’s a pacifist, but because he resents the important role they played in securing the West’s victory in the Cold War. Indeed, he regrets to this day the outcome of that conflict, with both his Campaign Director and Director of Communications being unrepentant Stalinists.
Why then, are so many young people flocking to politicians with a track record of undermining British and Western values? It is easy to dismiss this phenomenon as nothing new. The belief amongst young people that previous generations have got things wrong is not restricted to the current age. Indeed, such a conviction was at the heart of the mass student protests which swept across the West in the 1960s. Furthermore, it is right to note that radicalism and idealism have been enduring features of student politics, making Corbyn’s reach amongst the younger demographic not wholly surprising. What’s more, it appears that an alarming number of Corbyn supporters have little knowledge of his past. My peers howled with outrage at the prospect of Parliament having a vote on fox hunting, but showed little concern at Corbyn honouring IRA terrorists. That said, it would be a mistake to underestimate the extent of anger and disillusionment which exists amongst younger voters, which has the potential to cause lasting damage in Britain and across the West.
Today’s youth came of age during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash and bank bail outs. Young people across Europe have been the principal victims of the Euro Crisis. They have lived through the disastrous war in Iraq and its consequences. They face a chronic shortage of affordable housing and the looming threat from climate change. It is easy to see why so many are lured by a romantic view of socialism.
Conservatives therefore must be boastful about the record of free market capitalism, which for two centuries has been the driver of human progress. The last 3 decades have seen poverty fall at the fastest rate on record. Globalization has seen the proportion of the world’s population living in absolute poverty fall from 37% in 1990 to less than 10% today. People across the globe enjoy a standard of living which previous generations would have found incomprehensible. We must defend the record of liberal, free market democracies such as our own, which despite their inevitable flaws, are on every measure infinitely superior to any alternative. The tragedy of Venezuela, once hailed by those on the left as a model for twenty-first century socialism, should be held up clearly as an example of the dire consequences of turning away from a market-based economy. Every country over the last century that has adopted the model advocated by Corbynites has made its people poorer and less free.
Conservatives must also offer an inspiring vision for the future. Mathew Cowley wrote an excellent article for this magazine at the beginning of the UK General Election, highlighting the potential for Theresa May to win over a new generation of Conservatives in light of the hard-left takeover of the Labour Party. Unfortunately, this opportunity has been squandered by a Prime Minister unwillingly to make the case for conservatism. Theresa May has offered young voters little more than sound bites and populist rhetoric. Rather than putting forward a Conservative programme for government, May chose to fight the election on Labour’s territory, offering policies such as capping energy prices, putting workers on company boards and strengthening workers’ rights. What seemed like an audacious attempt to win over disillusioned Labour voters, in fact played straight into the hands of Corbyn, enabling his socialist narrative to dominate the election debate with no conservative alternative. Young people enthusiastically embraced Corbyn’s false depiction of a regressive Britain gripped by poverty and injustice. May should have championed the Conservative Party’s record on education reform, economic growth, job creation, and falling inequality. The moral case for deficit reduction and fiscal restraint was abandoned by May, enabling Corbyn’s anti-austerity platform to gain popular traction. Not enough has been done to convince younger voters of the opportunities Brexit provides. Whilst Brexit has expanded the Party’s appeal amongst older, traditional Labour voters, it has certainly caused further damage to its image amongst the young. There is need for a greater emphasis on the vision of a global, free trading Britain. Moving forward, the Conservative Party must also place market-based solutions to modern challenges such as housing shortages, wage stagnation and climate change at the forefront of its policy agenda.
The lesson from this dire Conservative election campaign must be that the way to win over younger voters is not to emulate the left, but to make the positive case for markets and liberty. With the growth of anti-establishment populism across the West, it no longer seems safe to expect these voters to move our way as they grow older. Conservatives must earn their support by offering something better.