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Calling the young selfish is the reason we voted


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Some journalists and public figures - Daniel Hannan, for instance - have been dismissing Labour’s election gains as young people voting for 'free stuff'.

There are many things about my generation I dislike. We are glued to our smartphones, listen to terrible music, read trash (if we read at all), and are too lax with drugs. But we desire this ‘free stuff’ because we are the first generation in decades for whom the ‘stuff’ is not free. It is a myth that we don’t work hard; we have to. We cannot afford a house, struggle to afford our rent because of soaring prices and plummeting controls, and are often forced back home to live with our parents.

Jeremy Corbyn

According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2009 the total number of people on zero-hour contracts was about 240,000 and in decline; since 2010 - a conspicuous date - that number has increased by nearly 750,000. The majority of people dependent on them, 300,000, are aged 18-24. Under the Conservatives, our university fees have trebled (and are set to increase again), and our maintenance grants have retroactively become loans.

Our parents neither expected nor experienced any of the above — not, at least, to the extent to which we have had to put up with it, and for which we are vilified.

To a backdrop of cuts, homelessness, and food banks, free-market optimism looks myopic. One wonders if those dismissing the youth vote will never have to catch the 53 bus outside Woolwich Arsenal station on a travel card that could have purchased three weeks’ food; or use the NHS; or feel the council's £3 gas and electricity increase (a margin the average student must factor into a precarious monthly budget); or, lastly, feel the dread of not knowing one’s average monthly income.

Our political class have not attacked Corbyn’s brand of social democracy because we can’t have it. We’ve had it. It gave us universal healthcare free at the point of use, post-war council housing, and a railway system that actually digested its profits, rather than spitting them out for France, Holland, and Germany to hoard. That many old-school, small-c conservatives such as Peter Hitchens also support renationalising the railways and keeping the NHS is evidence enough, one would think, that young people did not vote for Corbyn on the promise of ‘free stuff’. 

It is nothing more than the wish for health, a fairer spread of wealth, and a welfare net that catches the unlucky and props them back up. A few weeks ago I tramped around Westminster to write down homeless people’s stories, more for my own moral education than anything. Most of the people I met were mothers or fathers who once had thriving careers, a house, a car. It is unnerving to hear that a few unlucky interventions from Fate - perhaps a divorce or two - can send so many so quickly to so low a place. 

Do not call us selfish for desiring the restoration of our welfare state. Do not say that we are materially belligerent and irresponsible. Do not conflate us with IRA-supporting, Stalin-fawning communists. I cannot speak for Corbyn on these fronts except to say that, however squalid his links with the former, he has so far as I can see consistently and explicitly condemned all forms of political violence, and only ever called peace his motive.

I voted Labour and I despise the IRA and Stalinism as much as I despise fascism and Islamism. There is nothing in Labour’s Manifesto as extreme as these. It is a return to policies Britain has already had and resembles the mild social democracies for which the Nordic countries are envied. I should say its greatest flaw is its failure to push for secularism. 

Whatever Corbyn’s moral failures may be, he is less blinkered and hypocritical than the consensus we just changed. Theresa May called the election to increase her majority and crush Corbyn for his sins, among which were his ties to terrorists. Now May is committing the same sins to heal a party that she crushed to have the strength to confront an opposition that she united.

If Theresa May were to follow Corbyn’s example and use our beloved English canon to pitch her case, she might have chosen Thomas Hardy’s Neutral Tones: ‘She was the only thing alive enough to have the strength to die.’

Can we really be blamed for preferring Shelley? ‘Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number. Shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you: ye are many––they are few!’

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