To keep faith with the youth vote, Labour must offer them a European future.
Amongst much that was encouraging about Labour’s performance in Thursday’s election, one of the most exciting features was the tremendous turnout from young people.
Commentators have told us for years that young people could determine the results of our elections to a much greater extent – but have also always complacently asserted that they never would.
Well this time the young voters across Britain proved them wrong. They have seized their chance to exercise their power, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
What caused them to turn out in such numbers, particularly in support of the Labour Party?
Undoubtedly, Jeremy Corbyn’s message of hope and optimism, reflected in the tone of his hugely successful campaign, stood out starkly against Theresa May’s dismal, negative message. Young people responded not just to popular policies on issues like tuition fees, but to the idea that there’s a better way of doing politics in our country.
From the conversations I had with hundreds of young people over the six weeks of this campaign, and in the year since the referendum, I’m clear that Europe and the debate over Brexit also played a very significant role in engaging them in the democratic process.
Firstly, it’s clear that many young people – including those who voted in the referendum, those who were unable to, and those who regretted not doing so – felt that their futures had been decided for them by an older generation who didn’t accurately represent their aspirations, and rightly vowed never to let that happen again.
Secondly, many young people were understandably horrified by the extreme hard Brexit vision of this country set out by Theresa May and the Conservative government: diminished, insular, xenophobic – a vision so contrary to the kind of world millennials want to see. They want a Britain that is open and tolerant, but, more than that, they want for themselves the opportunities that being in Europe has provided and to which they have grown accustomed: to freely travel, fall in love, study, live and work across the continent.
And I think Europe played a wider role in this election too; what some have called the “revenge of the Remainers”. It’s clear that Labour did best in strong Remain areas as voters moved to oppose the narrow, extreme version of Brexit that May adopted in a failed attempt to co-opt the UKIP vote, and that many pro-European Tories are likely to have stayed at home in protest.
So what should Labour do?
One of the most profound consequences of this election is that there is now a clear majority in the House of Commons for remaining in the single market and the customs union. We should show courage and leadership to build a consensus for this sensible approach, which commands support not just in parliament but would be a unifying message in the country too.
Doing so is vital to safeguarding jobs and the economy, which Labour’s manifesto rightly commits us to doing.
More than that, however, it is vital to retaining the hopes and enthusiasm of a generation of young people who in this election looked to us in the Labour Party to create the Britain of which they dream.
Seb Dance is Labour MEP for London.