I Campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn in the Election. Here's Why So Many Young People Voted For Him

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, gave an election campaign speech in Basildon, England, on June 1. Neil Hall/Reuters

On a sunny Saturday ahead of the British general election, the seaside seat of Brighton Kemptown was bedecked in red. Entire rows of houses had Labour posters in the windows. Canvassers, mostly young, pounded the streets in their dozens. When they stopped at a bar at the end of their shift, bartenders refused to allow them to pay for their own drinks. Campaigners coming back that evening reported the kind of enthusiasm one would find in a Labour heartland. Except Kemptown had a Conservative majority.

A week later, Kemptown swung to a Labour majority of 10,000. The Conservative-leaning South East of England experienced a run of similar shocks, from Leamington to Canterbury (a seat the Conservatives had held ever since it was established, in 1918). Student populations helped swell the Labour vote. Farther north, Theresa May's Conservatives failed to hit almost all of their target seats, while two Labour gains created a clear belt of crimson across the country, from the North West to West Yorkshire.

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This was supposed to be a knockout for the Conservatives. They had called the election while they were 20 points up in the polls, expecting a clear landslide and a mandate for extreme policies. Instead, they found their majority destroyed along with their credibility. They remain in government, but barely in power.

It would be a gross oversimplification to say that the youth vote "swung it." First and foremost, credit should be given to Labour's transformative program that addressed deep-seated problems with Britain and provided radical but intuitive solutions, and to the Corbyn leadership that produced it. The movement that grew around Labour's program united people across age, race, ethnicity and region.

Yet young people are significant. We do not traditionally turn out at elections in high numbers. Our disillusionment is read as apathy, and our priorities are low down the list of politicians' priorities. We are to the left on both social and economic issues compared to our older counterparts, but our political potential is all too often untapped.

This campaign, everything was different. Young people swelled the troops of the election campaign in huge numbers, knocking on millions of doors and delivering millions more leaflets. Youth turnout may have sat above overall turnout. There has been a quiet revolution in how British politics works and who participates in it.

This began with a voter registration drive that saw young people signing up to vote in unprecedented numbers. The Corbyn campaign targeted young people, but not in the faux "down-with-the-kids" way that such things are often done. Corbyn's Labour formed alliances with influential people in different young communities, from YouTubers to the grime scene, to push Labour's message on their own terms. The core of young people working at the heart of Momentum, a grassroots Labour-campaign group, ensured that the strategy was built with and by young people rather than focus groups employed by spin doctors.

Social media and video, again used disproportionately by younger people, were used to great effect. Professionally made content of all kinds, ranging from funny to heartrending, uplifting to shocking, reached at least a quarter of Facebook's users. Momentum's videos have also reached well beyond the "bubble" of Labour supporters and into key marginals.

It continued with a very clear offer to young people that chimed with our aspirations and needs—which are relatively modest. Free tuition, a decent day's pay for a decent day's work, the ability to one day afford a home and access to strong public services are all things that many people in past decades could take for granted. Corbyn's message was clear: "You don't have to live without power or hope. You don't have to take what you're given."

In a period where young people (along with many of our older counterparts) face soaring poverty and insecurity, this struck a chord. It didn't matter in the slightest that Jeremy Corbyn is in his late 60s. He was authentic, and promising a future of hope over that of fear.

This election, the youth vote worked in concert with other factors to deliver a stunning series of victories at the constituency level. But there is no room for complacency. The work done during this election in reaching a demographic that is often ignored must be maintained, nurtured and developed, and the young people pounding the streets in Kemptown last week must be kept involved and engaged as they grow older.

Labour is in its best position for a long time. A route back to government is opening up, and a lively campaigning youth movement is a central part of it.

Katy Herrington is an activist with Momentum, a campaigning organization that supports Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.