An open letter to young voters: speak for your generation this Thursday

Dear younger voters:

Why this letter

2015 UK general election constituency map

I write in a personal capacity, in a blog post, as an open letter to you. It is a partisan letter, but I hope it can act as a contribution to a vibrant debate. My former students know that I am usually very elusive about my politics in the classroom (because I think it’s much better that way in learning environments), but for once, in the heat of this important election, I wanted to address your generation. You might not agree on everything but we can still respect and debate each other. I’d also stress that it’s not people but ideas and policies that I see as the real political opponents. These inevitably get conflated during elections, but passionate disagreement on ideas and policies does not imply disrespect for the persons entertaining them.

My frustration is that, even though I’ve lived in the UK for 19 years (longer than some of you, who can vote, have been alive), even though I work and pay taxes here, and even though I even teach and study politics, I don’t get to vote. Why? Because so far I’m an EU worker, and unlike ‘Commonwealth’ residents, we won’t get a say. Yet I’m obsessed by this election, by British and European politics, by the fate of our unjust and unstable global political economy, by the fate of our common planet and so much else. I’m obsessed yet cannot vote where I have settled.

So instead I’m sharing my analysis with you. It’s no longer than most of the essays some of you have written for me: under 2000 words (with many URLs for further resources). You should be done in 10-15 minutes. I am going to take sides. Don’t read if you don’t want to. But if you do and you then want to comment, please feel welcome to (I only ask the same spirit of debate).


There is a clear choice of government on Thursday: Theresa May, ‘her’ manifesto and an establishment on its traditional mission for another 5 years, or Corbyn’s Labour manifesto for Brexit Britain. Of course there are other parties, and of course only at best a quarter of the seats are seen as potential swing constituencies anyway, but where you vote could make a difference (check out YouGov’s constituency-by constituency estimates). The next government will work towards either the policies put forth by Corbyn, or those of May.

I reckon many of you (and probably many academics) would far prefer the kind of policies envisioned in the Labour manifesto than 5 more years of austerity, migrant-bashing, hard Brexit, food banks, longer NHS waiting times etc. Labour offers the vision of a fairer, renewed and forward-planning Britain which invests in its future while protecting the prides of its past (among which a properly-funded NHS).

Other parties have good ideas too. Nearly all agree that global warming needs action (except the UKIP Tories). Most want a fairer economy (food banks should not have to happen). Most claim Brexit need not be ‘hard’. Many remind us that immigration does need to be discussed. So Labour is not the only sensible choice, and in some seats it might be more tactical to vote for a different candidate than Labour whilst still against the Conservatives. But for the next government (even if perhaps a minority government), it’s Labour or the Tories.

Labour’s manifesto is full of popular and sensible policies. It’s ‘fully costed‘ and not so unrealistic (many Europeans do at least as much as what Labour proposes). It changes the direction of the country, partly reaffirming what was either valuable or improving in the UK until the 2008 crisis (including public transport, the NHS etc). It even looks forward ecologically, in housing, in funding of social justice and education. It aims for international peace and reconciliation where possible. It proposes to be sensible about Brexit and terrorism and the NHS, and so much more. Read it (and read Theresa May’s too)!

Leadership by Corbyn’s principles…

Endlessly-maligned Corbyn (maligned, one might ask, by whom and to whose benefit?) has turned out to be someone with broadly sensible and compassionate ideas, and someone who believes in nuance. He is a seasoned but principled politician. He respects democratic decision-making processes (including Brexit and the drafting of the Labour manifesto). He doesn’t always win, but puts forward proposals that mean to better our common lot. To me these seem good qualities for a ‘leader’. He will even engage squarely with thorny issues, with a honest critical mind and an attempt to address injustices.

Take immigration (which, let’s face it, was probably the main issue at the Brexit referendum). Corbyn’s Labour concedes it needs to be ‘managed’. Brexit will stop the EU directive that allows ‘detached’ workers from other EU members coming here because local bosses can get away with paying them less than the local minimum wage and social safety standards (on that particular gripe, those who criticise ‘immigration’ are right to sense an injustice). But equally most of you agree immigration has a been a good thing for the country: it’s actually not unmanageable, it helps runs most services, it contributes taxpayers, it is good for the economy, it diversifies our common culture and enriches exchanges. And we ought to be proud to provide a shelter for people seeking refuge from war and persecution (‘refugees’ are a special category of ‘immigrants’). Yes any rising population requires infrastructure investment, but people who come and work also pay taxes and contribute to building and funding our common society. Corbyn offers a ‘managed’ and principled immigration policy, without injustice or exploitation of anyone (Brit or foreigner) on British soil.

On international affairs: Corbyn again has a track record of being driven by a concern for justice and peace, which often means, yes, an openness to dialogue (what longer-term solutions haven’t needed that?). He voted against the Iraq war, against the kind of war planned in Libya, against apartheid, against the violence in Northern Ireland. He’s not terribly keen on imperial jingoism in the Falklands (should we really unquestionably go to war to keep total colonial sovereignty over islands far away with some settlers and thousands of sheep?). He’s hesitant to say he’ll press the red button to burn and irradiate millions (would you not hesitate?). He wants us to think again at the wars that don’t help counter, and often foster more, terrorism (why’s that not a good idea?). And yeah he’d be more hesitant to lead the country to another Iraq or Syria or Libya (is that terrible leadership?).

As for education, he’s long been against tuition fees. Many European countries manage without the high fees UK universities have to charge. Universities matter and it’s good for all to be able to educate ourselves. At least Labour is thinking about access to education ‘from cradle to grave‘. And education is crucial for future generations to brush away dangerous demagogues.

… or leadership by a ‘bloody difficult woman’ and her ‘nasty party’

By contrast, Theresa May (who boasts being a ‘bloody difficult woman’), the party she herself once called ‘nasty’, and ‘her’ manifesto are committed to: a ‘dementia tax‘, fox hunting, hard Brexit, more food bank austerity despite actually mounting debt and tax breaks on the 1%, fracking, HS2, immigrant-demonisation, privatisations, zero hours employment promises, NHS crises and longer waiting queues for even basic health treatment (listen to the practitioners), underfunded schools (even homeless teachers), ever more expensive houses; etc. All that uncosted.

Her stance on Brexit has been criticised by nearly every European politician, and it is hardening their own stance (yet she’ll need those very same politicians, but still thinks finger-wagging will facilitate a successful Brexit). She’ll ‘save’ your headline GDP by selling to international investers what you thought you ‘had taken back control’ of (replacing Brussels with big corporations), by cosying up to master Trump and those we apparently must sell weapons to (suppressing all the while official reports that warn against this), and by indulging in vague delusions about infinite trade partners presenting a money-tree of untapped economic potential. In the process, on education, she offers universities struggling with both students and staff because of her Home Office record and Brexit, and postcode-lottery schools that are underfunded and dispirited (remember they’ll teach your kids).

The Tories seem to be realising they went too far in courting their UKIP alter-ego. Yet all they’re offering when pressed are vague false charm through praise, soundbites and carefully calculated statements (read their statements carefully). They are hoping the British public can again be fooled by tactical and empty promises which they never live up to (do remember the Brexit referendum debate was mostly blue-on-blue and  displayed Tory political communication techniques on each other before our eyes). Even during this dreadful campaign they had to screech on many u-turns when they realised specific policy proposals were actually extremely unpopular (they hadn’t realised earlier?).

They say to judge them on their record: debt has gotten worse despite austerity. They say they were needed in 2010 to sort out our finances: the cause of the fiscal bleeding was our shouldering of the mess left by finance (there were promises to clean that up at the time). Austerity is the price the many are paying for the mistakes of the 1% who own most things including the media and steer establishment parties.

She won’t even properly debate. She came off alright on the BBC ‘debate’, though far worse on the Channel 4 one, and no better for chickening out of all the other appearances. She says she’s meeting the public: she’s meeting her own local party members in front of a bus (remind you of anything?). She says on many ideas which she has realised were bad on reflection that she’ll ‘consult’, but charities have been muzzled for this election, and consultation is legally ignorable and duly ignored between elections (unless, apparently, when it’s the Naylor report proposal to sell off more of the assets of the NHS).

This week, they’ll repeat 2015 election themes: ‘coalition of chaos’ (unlike one with Trump and the Saudis?), ‘trust us with the economy’ (though it’s not working but hurting the many), ‘cannot trust Corbyn to nuke’ millions of humans, etc. Another ‘project fear’.

Vote tactically

There are wide variations in the polls, for many reasons: ‘shy Tories‘; the young who claim passion but often vote in lower numbers; constituencies with heavy Brexit preferences (either way) that could become marginal. YouGov gives me cautious hope and gives you a reading on whether your constituency actually could matter.

Of course first-past-the-post is peculiar. Your constituency might have tradionally been ‘safe’, your vote thereby irrelevant. But it might be a marginal this year. So might the one where your grandparents live, go on and talk to them, as Owen Jones suggests. Talk to your neighbours and friends, do what you can at your level, and show your entourage that the younger generations are serious about their future.

This election will shape the Britain that will frame your life. To me, Corbyn seems principled, knowledgeable, experienced, respectful. He is willing to question problematic orthodoxies. He has a positive vision for Brexit Britain. His party has put forward a feasible, enthusing manifesto. The alternative, in my personal view, seems far worse.

The Tories didn’t seem to want to encourage your generation of unregistered voters to register on time. They seem afraid of your vote. What worries me instead is their vision for Brexit Britain. I might be wrong, and to repeat these are my own personal thoughts which I appreciate you might disagree with.

Either way though, you might not get to vote again until 2022. Where do you want the country to be by then?

Best wishes,

An older and worried European among you


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