Labour are sky high in the polling when it comes to young people, but how happy are they really with the current policy offering from the party? And could it spell trouble for Labour in future?

Rachel Carberry

In the 2019 general election young voters (18-34) seemed strongly aligned with leftist values. Labour held a huge 43-point lead amongst voters aged 18-24 and a 26-point lead for the wider bracket of those voters aged between 18-34. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn offered policies based on social liberalism and socialist values. He created a spike in youth turnout and mobilisation with many young voters, who felt more represented by the party, and within politics in general, than ever before.

However, flash forward to present-day and the political opinions of young people are much more divided with trends of apathy and choosing to not vote also being on the rise. Although Labour remains strong in the polls for younger voters, support for the Greens is now significantly higher, with the party expected in some polls to take up to 13% of the vote share for under-30s in July’s election. 

After 14 years of Tory leadership, there’s been a plethora of issues such as disrupted education, declining prosperity and being unable to move out of your mum and dad’s house until you are well over the age of 25. Labour should be able to pick up where they left off and be on the home-run to securing the same engagement with young voters that they had in 2019; but they aren’t. 

When asked whether they feel represented by the current Labour party, JJ from Southend Wood and Green stated that they felt “completely unrepresented” by the current Labour party and that, “as a young person I pretty much feel that the party doesn’t care about my future” with Toby from Bristol Central noting that they felt that Labour had “lost all personality” under Starmer with the party bending their ideals to whoever they wish to appeal to at that time, and making it difficult to engage with Labour on any meaningful level. Four out of five interviewees said that they were members of the party previously and all had voted for Labour in past elections. 

The cancelling of Labour memberships was a common theme in younger voters interviewed, with there being a number of reasons behind this. Starmer’s stance, or lack of, on the ongoing crisis in Gaza is a key turn-off with one previous young member noting, “[Labour’s] support for Israel was the nail in the coffin for my relationship with the party. I can’t give my money, time and support to a party that won’t call for disarmament and [a] ceasefire”.

When discussing Starmer’s comment from LBC that Labour believe Israel ‘has the right to defend’ itself, respondents noted that whilst this affected their relationship to the party, it simultaneously weakened their faith in Starmer as a leader due to, “just how terrible he is at thinking on his feet”. A number of those interviewed noted Corbyn’s outward support of Palestine, and how they believe Labour under Starmer should have mirrored this by supporting movements such as the Boycott Divestment Sanctions  if they wanted to activate and engage young voters and those from ethnic minorities, particularly those who are Muslim. For young voters, Labour’s calls for a ceasefire are now seemingly too little, too late. 

When discussing Labour’s current situation with younger voters, it feels almost impossible to avoid any discussion, or somewhat sense of yearning, for what the party was under Corbyn. For some, it was a broad connection with the Labour party values that voters noticed an absence of in recent months as James from Liverpool, Riverside noted, “everything I connected with and what used to excite me about the party has slowly but surely been shut down under Starmer”.

However, for others the shift from Corbynism to the current state of Labour was more personal with feelings that Labour no longer represents people of colour; something that does not come as a surprise after the 2022 Forde Report found the party to be an ‘unwelcoming place for people of colour’. Despite some weak attempts from Labour to tackle these issues and become more inclusive, such as rolling out mandatory anti-racism training from this summer, it is simply not enough to gain back what trust has been lost. “I saw a future in the policies that Corbyn advocated for and respected the anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics of many of the politicians that were brought to the forefront in that era. It now feels as a young, black person that Labour not only does not represent me but they have an active contempt for me and my existence through both policy and through rhetoric”. 

When asked about the main voter issues for this election, the most common answers were the cost of living and housing crisis, university fees, the crisis in Gaza and climate change. Asked if they believed Labour could tackle, or at least address these issues, young voters did not appear overly confident. Discussing housing, every young person interviewed acknowledged that they feel most parties are ignoring the core issues that renters face, stating Labour’s commitments to ending no-fault evictions are “below the bare minimum” and that policies surrounding capping rent prices, the amount of properties owned by an individual and landlord limits and standards are vague or not there at all.

When discussing housing, Chelsea Valentine from the West Midlands disclosed they had been subject to homelessness due to a no-fault eviction, stating that they had been made to feel like a villain for needing help from the government and that they “have no confidence in Labour to fix this. Unless they put a cap on rent, take the power from landlords and build social housing the issue will never end.  They will not take radical action and nothing of lasting impact will get done”. 

One thing that Labour have proposed is to build new houses on low-quality areas of the green belt, dubbed the ‘grey belt’, to tackle some of the issues surrounding housing availability in the UK, an idea which has received mixed responses from the public and other politicians alike. JJ noted that housing-building numbers are irrelevant to the housing crisis if they are not combined with “solid promises on the proportion of genuinely affordable housing”, stating that they saw Labour’s ‘grey-belt’ policy as a “gift to housing developers”. There were also concerns surrounding how building on areas of the green belt will coincide with climate protection, with all respondents noting that they feel as though Labour are not thinking long-term or with the climate in mind. Young voters appeared to wish to see Labour adopt more of a repurposing approach to housing by renovating houses and areas that already exist, particularly within urban areas and cities. 

Another persistent issue for young people is rising university fees, something that has resulted in people from working class backgrounds feeling as though they cannot afford higher education. Starmer has previously noted that he is against raising UK tuition fees for students, however recently he has failed to rule out raising fees once again due to the current need to use budgets to protect the NHS. When asked about Labour’s change in stance surrounding this issue, the young people Naked Politics spoke to did not appreciate the use of the NHS as a guise and presenting it as a ‘problem’. Young voters typically wished to instead see a progressive tax system and a tackling of tax avoidance and evasion.

The Greens are expected to make gains particularly amongst younger voters and this was clear within the discussions held for this piece. Despite some mentioning the obvious issues with representation within parliament, every voter interviewed said that they felt more represented by the Green Party at the time compared to Labour, noting that they found the Greens’ current manifesto and stance on the issues discussed more agreeable and they felt like the party gave them more hope than Labour, particularly for housing and the climate crisis. 

However, there are clear issues with young people feeling distrustful of any established political party in the current climate as well as obvious issues with representation in parliament for ‘third’ parties. A number of interviewees mentioned that, although the Green party manifesto aligns with their views, “under the current voting system it just feels like there is no point in voting for them”. Over half of the interviewees mentioned despite the issues with Labour in its current state, they will still be voting for the party in this election due to fear of Conservative victory once again. However, others stated that they reject the notion that they should have to vote for Labour just to ensure the lesser-of-two-evils doesn’t get into power. 

Out of the five young people interviewed, only one person said that they will not be voting in this election with the majority explicitly stating that they felt it was important to not ‘waste’ their vote. Despite this, it was recognised by most of the young people that spoiling a ballot is a good and valid protest method for those who are unhappy with the current selection of parties. However, although recognising the arguments in favour of spoiled ballots, one interviewee stated that they saw spoiling a ballot and using social media to call out politicians as equally effective methods of civil disobedience. 

Young people overall seem dissatisfied with the party that once represented them and they are desperate to seek alternative options. The overall consensus feels as though Labour are now a massive disappointment to young people, however with the electoral system in its current state many feel as though they have been pushed into a corner and must vote Labour on the 4th July to ensure the Conservatives lose. 

This is not to say Labour’s affiliation and connection with young people is over for good. A number of young voters interviewed stated that they would readily support a Labour party that was more committed to tackling the key issues faced by young people, future generations and marginalised groups, and despite the rose-tinted glasses coming off for many, there is a feeling that some still believe in what the party could be. 

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Last Update: July 01, 2024