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What Turned the British Election? Maybe the Youth Vote

The Brexit referendum, Ms. Traynor said, could lead to closed borders, which threatened to tear her long-term Spanish boyfriend away from her, and her away from the group of 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 realized that her vote for the opposition Labour Party had denied the prime minister a mandate.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour gained 31 seats, while Mrs. May’s party lost 12 seats and its overall majority — leaving a hung Parliament, one in which neither side has enough lawmakers for control. In a statement on Friday, Mrs. May grimly announced that she would form a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

Ms. Traynor said that Mr. Corbyn’s campaign had “injected energy” into what otherwise seemed like a stale election that would bring more “doom.”

“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.”


Mr. Corbyn posed for selfies at a campaign event in Leeds on May 10. He went out of his way to attract the youth vote. Credit Phil Noble/Reuters

Owen Jones, an author and Labour campaigner, wrote in The Guardian on Friday that young voters had been “ignored, ridiculed and demonized, 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 young Britons felt compelled to vote after the Brexit decision, 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 the election was called, 57,987 people under 25 registered to vote — more than any other age group, according to the BBC. About 246,480 young people registered to vote on the last day in May that they were eligible, a significant increase from the 137,400 who did so on the cutoff date in 2015, The Telegraph reported.

The turnout in constituencies with younger voters rose significantly, appearing to benefit Labour. The turnout for 18- to 24-year-olds was 66.4 percent, according to Sky News data. Other reports put it as high as 72 percent. In the 2015 general election, the rate for voters of the same age range was 43 percent, according to Ipsod, a marketing and opinion research company.

Shona Macdonald, 52, a poll clerk in Nottingham, north of London, told The Times that “It was incredible to see so many students voting. The youth vote galvanized by Jeremy Corbyn was real.”

There were doubts that younger voters would cast their ballots for Mr. Corbyn, who had toured the country, attracting crowds of all ages. His campaign was even compared to Bernie Sanders’s American presidential race. In a Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Sanders congratulated Mr. Corbyn for “running a very effective campaign.”

The payoff was evident in Battersea, where Labour seized the Conservative seat.

“Representatives from the Labour Party knocked on our doors and gathered us in groups, asking us about our problems and talking to us about solutions,” said Jessie Cox, a 21-year-old student. “They gave us a reason to vote.”

Jennifer Hudson, a senior lecturer in politics at University College London, said the effectiveness of Mr. Corbyn’s campaign could be seen in a picture of him with young supporters, cheek to cheek.

“I thought: ‘We will never see Theresa May like that with her supporters,’” Ms. Hudson said. “He has managed to create a human connection with his voters.”

Interactive Graphic

How Britain Voted

Results and analysis from the British general election.

OPEN Interactive Graphic

Even when members of Mr. Corbyn’s own party declared him unfit to lead, he continued to focus on young voters, including sitting for an interview with some of the country’s top grime music stars that kick-started the grass-roots campaign group “Grime4Corbyn,” which encouraged young people to register to vote.

Analysts say that the part of Labour’s manifesto that most resonated with Britain’s youth was its promise to abolish university tuition fees. But Malia Bouattia, the president of the National Union of Students, said the student vote was also about issues like cuts to the National Health Service.

On Friday, the mood in Battersea was celebratory, though Labour did not win an overt victory. Many youths said they had attended election parties until the early hours of the morning and had skipped work.

“We may still be far from the final result that we wanted, but this feels like progress, and hopefully, it gives out a message to the pompous Tories that they can’t make bad decisions on our behalf,” said Luke Rossi, 25, a musician who had voted for the first time.

In Battersea Park, students ages 19 to 21 were debating possible political outcomes of the election aftermath. All said they hoped Mrs. May would be removed as leader of her party.

“She’s an embarrassment to the country,” said Fiona Barry, 20, a student at Queen Mary University in London. “England deserves so much better than that.”

That sentiment was not shared by all younger voters. “I like some of Corbyn’s policies, but he’s just not fit to be prime minister,” Aaron Neil, 23, of Dalston in east London, said before the election. “We need a strong leader and party to get us through Brexit negotiations and make sure the economy doesn’t collapse.”

For now, Mrs. May still leads, but precariously. The election results hammered the pound — it sank as much as 2 percent against the dollar — and plunged the country into uncertainty days before Brexit talks were to begin.

In her statement on Friday, Mrs. May vowed, “I will now form a government, a government that can provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country.”

She has also apologized to her party’s ministers who lost their seats.

Source: NYT > World

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