The appeal of Labour for young people could not be clearer. The reality is that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership represents the friendliest approach to youth and students from a political party in generations.
The Labour pledge on cutting tuition fees and reinstating maintenance grants alone saw students queueing up at polling booths to vote out the Tories in Theresa May’s ill-fated snap election. Young people around the country feel empowered that they contributed to this political upset, helping topple Tory ministers and boost Labour at the expense of the Tories, which feels like an apt response to the Tories’ trebling of tuition fees.
Corbyn’s Labour made an offer to young people on higher education and the education maintenance allowance. Meanwhile the Tories were mired in a mess of their own making, offering only the dementia tax, cuts to school meals and hunting foxes. It was a chilling insight into what the Tories would have done to the population had they received the 20-point landslide result that prompted May to call the snap election.
Labour’s offer to students and young people was both popular and made economic sense. Just as the NHS was created during the post-war slump, boosting the economy by creating jobs that in turn created income tax revenue, so too could graduates contribute to the public purse for every pound invested. An educated graduate is able to compete for higher pay, and therefore generates higher income tax. Such logic is lost on the millionaire Tories whose associations with tax returns are more likely to be in the Cayman Islands or the scandalous paradise papers than building the economy.
As an EU student, I worry about the Tories’ reactionary hard Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn is right to say that our rights should not become bargaining chips in the negotiations. The depths of Theresa May’s reactionary agenda is shown by her insistence on counting international students in migration targets. This makes little political sense, and she is opposed by MPs across the spectrum on the issue as a result. It also makes no economic sense, as the business department estimates that the economic value of international students is set to rise to £26 billion by 2025.
The Tories have found to their own misfortune that their reactionary politics allowed Labour’s progressive policies to reach new people. ‘Grime For Corbyn’ grabbed the headlines as artists like Stormzy backed Labour and called for for new voters to engage politically. It comes as no surprise therefore that there is no equivalent ‘Grime for May’. Activate, the Tories’ attempt at a youth orientated movement to rival Momentum, imploded in its infancy.
Jeremy Corbyn has enabled a political expression of young people in the mainstream that is unprecedented, and could not be more timely. The world is facing challenges like never before, with Donald Trump emboldening hate groups, the catastrophic implications of climate change, and the political upheavals of racism, war and and the economic crisis. How can the old ways of the establishment answer these problems, when they were responsible for creating many of them in the first place?
It is more clear than ever: we need young people and students to be engaged in shaking things up and making a positive difference. Jeremy Corbyn offers something different, and very necessary. The opportunity to affect change so that the many, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged are not exploited at the expense of the elite few.
Young people are inspired because Corbyn offers the potential of a more sustainable future, over the continuation of a system that has created a grotesquely rich one per cent. Cynicism and serious concerns surround the Tories boundary change proposals and compulsory ID checks on the electoral roll. They seem more motivated by attempts to create a more favourable election for them than their stated aims of a fairer system.
The genie is out of the bottle when it comes to young people and students being switched on and ready to make change. The stakes are higher than ever. Let’s not stop until the Tories have been defeated and Jeremy Corbyn is Prime Minister.
Myriam Kane is a member of the National Union of Students (NUS) national executive committee.
This piece was commissioned by guest editor Diane Abbott.