The year that changed everything

Last month I popped along to a Momentum event titled “The Year that Changed Everything, where next for Labour and young people?”. The event looked at 2017 and what it meant for British politics. Labour performed well in the snap election, seeing a ten-point rise in the vote compared to 2015. This success resulted in a hung parliament, shattering Tory confidence and cementing Labour as a serious force of opposition. 

This success has been linked to the “youthquake”, a significant rise in the youth vote and in the political engagement of young people. A YouGov poll estimated the turnout of voters aged 18 – 24 to be 43% in 2015, and in 2017 this increased to 58%, with three-quarters of them voting Labour. So how did Labour do it? Through social media, mobilising campaigners and the protest movement, along with a targeted manifesto, Labour were able to inspire Britain’s youth in a short period of time. Looking at how this was achieved hints at how politics may look for future generations.

Labour’s use of social media helped them to develop a positive online movement, winning over young voters. Content included practical messages such as information on voter registration and the location of polling stations. The use of hashtags helped to galvanise youth into political action through memes and emotional appeals. Popular hashtags, such as #ForTheMany and #JC4PM, showed support for Labour and were largely promoted by young people. Momentum boosted Labour’s online presence through posting videos which, due to their humorous style, were picked up by young people. Their most viral video, “Daddy, Do You Hate Me?”, achieved 5.4 million views in just two days, furthering the online reach of Labour content. The Guardian and Bloomberg Politics claim that Labour dominated on social media, with more posts and shares. By maintaining an active online presence and focusing on creating a positive digital movement, Labour won the social media battle. 

Mobilising campaigners allowed Labour to encourage political activism in young people. Momentum used Whatsapp to contact young campaigners, reaching over 400,000 people via message, to encourage them to take action in local communities. Momentum also launched, a website in which users can locate their nearest marginal seat, allowing young people to target their canvassing. Celebrity endorsements helped to mobilise, for example, the #Grime4Corbyn campaign saw Stormzy and JME publicly support Corbyn, and this provided a reach to young audiences typically outside of the political mainstream. Corbyn’s appearances at music festivals sparked the Seven Nation Army chant, a hilarious representation of young people’s excitement for Labour.

Mobilising supporters allowed for the development of a larger protest movement, as thousands flocked to rallies across the country. In May 2017, thousands in Leeds, a large student population, came out to see Corbyn. Altogether, Corbyn addressed over 100,000 voters at 90 events during the campaign. Corbyn’s unspun and down to earth personality was on show and young people were captivated. 

Labour’s manifesto appealed to young people as it focused on some of the main issues that affect them today. The manifesto promised to scrap tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants in an attempt to ease the burden of student debt. Points were included on banning zero-hour contracts and unpaid internships, and they also promised to raise the minimum wage, all trying to offer a sense of security in a difficult job market. The housing crisis was addressed with promises to build 100,000 new affordable council homes every year and reintroduce housing benefit for people under 22, helping young people to get on the property ladder and support their households. These are just some of the points which make up a manifesto that attempts to address issues affecting young people and reflects the generation’s growing sense of social liberalism. Ultimately, through these promises, Labour offered hope for young people, hope for a more positive future out of austerity, and it was this hope that underpinned the youth vote.

Labour captured the attention of young people by reaching them on social media, in their communities and through a refreshing manifesto. Labour moved to tackle the common fears of young people today and were able to connect with those typically unrepresented in politics. As a result, young people turned out and 60% of them voted Labour.

At the Momentum event, the question was asked, what now for Labour and young people? Looking at last year, we may expect to see more online campaigning, more dynamic approaches to community action, and a continuing of the party’s focus on addressing everyday issues. The election signalled a new digital age for British politics and this will have a real impact on the way in which young people engage with democracy in the future. Labour may have the attention of young people, but they will now need to solidify this support if Corbyn ever wants to see Number 10. 

Photo credit: Nigel Roddis/PA Wire