Surprise turnout of youth hits Tories in 'payback' vote

Supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wear their allegiance proudly.
Supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wear their allegiance proudly.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • As Britain took stock of the stunning results of a snap election that wiped out the parliamentary majority of Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party, one narrative bubbled up to the surface: The youth had spoken.

Friday's election results were fuelled partly by a higher turnout rate among young British voters who had been angry at Brexit, the outcome of last year's referendum to leave the European Union.

That vote, overwhelmingly supported by older Britons, was seen by many younger people as a threat to their jobs, their ability to study abroad and their desire to travel freely across the bloc's borders.

In other words, the vote by young Britons had a whiff of payback.

"I was so angry about Brexit that I buried my head in a pillow and screamed," said Ms Louise Traynor, 24, a waitress in London, who had never voted before Thursday.

She said she had been angry at herself for not voting last year because "I was stupid enough to think that the country had some sense".

  • PM Lee congratulates May

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May to congratulate her on her reappointment as prime minister after fighting "a difficult election".

    "On behalf of the Government of Singapore, I would like to congratulate you on your reappointment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom," PM Lee wrote in the letter yesterday.

    "It was a difficult election and you fought a hard fight," he said.

    "One of your government's top priorities must now be the difficult negotiation with the European Union on Brexit. The task is all the more complex as you will also have to rally an electorate which has sharply divergent views on the matter to support the eventual outcome," he added.

    Mr Lee said he was confident that Mrs May would be able to provide the strong leadership needed to pull the British people together and work out the best deal for the country.

    Beyond Europe, Mr Lee said, he hoped Britain would continue to play an active role in world affairs.

    He noted that Singapore and Britain share longstanding and close ties and cooperate in many areas, including defence, trade and investment.

    "Our friendly relations are underpinned by the strong people-to-people ties and the historical and cultural links we share. I am sure that this warm partnership will continue and strengthen under your leadership," he said.

    Mr Lee also said he looked forward to working closely with Mrs May and meeting her at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg next month. He added that he hoped Mrs May would be able to find an opportunity to visit Singapore.

The referendum, she said, could lead to closed borders, which threatened to tear her Spanish boyfriend away from her, and her away from the European friends she had made while working at a tapas restaurant.

On Friday morning, she said, much of the anxiety she had felt about her future was replaced with excitement when she realised her vote for the Labour Party had denied Mrs May a mandate.

Ms Traynor said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's campaign had "injected energy" into what otherwise seemed like a stale election.

"Does Theresa May care that I've been on minimum wage for three years and I'm still paying my student debt?" she asked. "No, she doesn't. All she cares about is Brexit and getting her deal."

Author and Labour campaigner Owen Jones wrote in The Guardian on Friday that young voters had been "ignored, ridiculed and demonised, even. They just don't care about politics, it's said, or they're just too lazy".

He added: "Our young have suffered disproportionately these past few years: student debt, a housing crisis, a lack of secure jobs, falling wages, cuts to social security."

Many youth felt compelled to vote after Brexit, because of austerity budgets and what they saw as the establishment's tendency to serve the interests of the rich.

This year saw a spike in young people registering to vote - more than one million people under 25 applied. On the day in May that the election was called, 57,987 under the age of 25 registered to vote - more than any other age group, according to the BBC. About 246,480 youth registered to vote on the last day in May that they were eligible, a significant jump from the 137,400 who did so on the cut-off date in 2015, The Telegraph reported.

Poll clerk Shona Macdonald, 52, told The Times: "It was incredible to see so many students voting. The youth vote galvanised by Jeremy Corbyn was real."

University College London's politics lecturer Jennifer Hudson said Mr Corbyn "has managed to create a human connection with his voters".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'Surprise turnout of youth hits Tories in 'payback' vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe