I went to Glastonbury festival this year and at around 4pm on the Saturday afternoon I emerged from my tent, bleary eyed and armed with a warm tin of Strongbow, ready to tackle the rest of the day following a much-needed power nap. I suddenly remembered that, for some reason, Jeremy Corbyn was about to appear on the Pyramid Stage (to introduce an inflammatory US rap group no less) and I kicked myself for sleeping too long to get to it on time. However, the massive speakers and video system on the Other Stage, right by where we camp every year, kicked into life. There he was, stood onstage with Michael Eavis, both looking like they’d won the biggest marrow competition at the local village fayre with the prize pick from their communal allotment. Truth be told, I’d only wanted to go and see him to watch a politician fall spectacularly onto his own arse in front of 50,000 people and now, thanks to it being beamed around the whole festival, I would get to see it.
Maybe I was still half-asleep, maybe I was still quite drunk from the breakfast ciders, but I was absolutely bowled over by his speech. I’d never heard a politician speak so optimistically and passionately, telling people to build bridges and not walls, that love will prevail, that there was cause for hope… The slight irony of him preaching this message to a predominantly middle-class, Hunter welly-wearing, substance-addled crowd wasn’t lost on me but regardless, he was adored by those watching and I bought into his message completely. As the new lyric-infused version of Seven Nation Army rattled around the entire festival for the next two days, everyone seemed to be in a state of delirium – the general election had been an unmitigated clusterfunk for the Conservatives, Corbyn had managed to mobilise the youth vote to its highest turnout in decades and it seemed as though things were on the up. Where, I thought, will politics go next?
Nearly a month on and that momentum has taken something of a nose-dive and reality has set in – the Conservatives are still in power, with Theresa May having thankfully watered the magic money tree in order to bribe the Northern Irish equivalent of the BNP to stand next to her and look tough in the playground battles of legislative parliament, Brexit worries have dominated the headlines once again and the MPs are limping on to their holidays. It’s all gone a bit flat. All the talks of having another election within the year seem to have quietened down and the electorate have got back on with their lives, democratic duty fulfilled for another four years or so. However, the ongoing Grenfell Tower investigation and the whole tragedy’s symbolism around austerity and the rich/poor divide means that some of the tensions are still slowly simmering away, ready to boil over again at any moment. This tension, I think, will bring about one of the biggest political shifts in British history during our lifetime.
We’re slap bang in the middle of a technical revolution that is putting everyone in touch with everyone and is giving those previously without a voice to speak up on issues that matter to them. Us millennials seem to be caught right in the middle of the money-driven Baby Boomers and what is appearing to be a far more liberal, socially-inclusive Generation X – the previous clear divide of working class and upper class seems to be ever more blurred between generations with each passing day. Brexit appeared to be the wealthy, older generation’s protest at this transition, given the demographics that by and large voted to leave, and the latest general election could be argued as the youth voters’ response, taking the wind out of the traditional, right-wing Tory sails and giving added impetus to the positive, inclusive messages that Corbyn was preaching. The mixture of the increased spotlight on “fake news” and more critical, unbiased views on traditional news sources like the Sun or Daily Mail from our generation is also largely corroding the impact of traditional “Us vs. Them” attacks from Left on Right or vice versa. The fact of the matter is, the old style of Punch and Judy politics simply isn’t resonating with our generation anymore, yet Corbyn is the only one who seems to have tapped into this. So what next?
I, for one, look enviously at the French under Emmanuel Macron, as he seems to have tapped into the shifted political landscape by championing the centrist, liberal cause that has proved so popular amongst younger voters. In the French election, the two equivalents of the British Conservative and Labour parties had their voter bases absolutely annihilated by Macron and Le Pen due to the apathy they had instilled amongst the electorate (it should be noted, however, that Le Pen ran a very close race and championed a form of nationalism that might make even the most virulent UKIP supporters splutter into their pint out stout). Macron speaks to both the youth voters and many of the old and has been fantastic in promoting environmentalism, a cause that resonates with Millenials far more than the Baby Boomers – since elected, he released a social media video inviting foreign environmental scientists and researchers to France following the US’s departure from the Paris Climate Treaty and has promised to remove all petrol and diesel cars from France by 2040. Bold, powerful steps with a long-term strategy in mind. Dear God how I yearn for something similar in the UK.
And though I yearn away to no avail at the moment, I believe that, in time, we will see something similar happen here. Since Tony Blair’s New Labour victory, the socialists haven’t had a traditionally left-wing party to represent them. Many conservative voters are starting to distrust a party that seems to be so out of touch with the people and that seems to be so constantly ravaged by in-fighting and power struggles that George R. R. Martin is planning a new series of fantasy novels on them. Those who, by choice or by circumstance, do not choose to engage in politics have only Jeremy Corbyn to excite them out of their voter apathy and, however much as I would like to, I simply cannot see Corbyn realistically being the lasting voice of change. He is 68, has many question marks around some of his hammer and sickle social circles and is leading a party that, like the Conservatives, is slowly tearing itself apart. There is no trust or faith in politics anymore which leaves a void that, in my eyes at least, only an outsider can fill. Where this will come from is anyone’s guess but hopefully, one day, we will see a beacon of rational, liberal democracy rise from the smouldering ashes of the self-immolated political norms of the last fifty years.
So many of our generation are becoming more and more politically engaged and I encourage you to do the same – it may seem disheartening and futile to get involved in such a flawed system right now, but I believe we will see a seismic shift in our democracy within the next few years and it is our input, by engaging and challenging political norms and exercising our democratic rights, that will shape what comes next.
Just remember to vote Underhill in 2032.