Yesterday was a strange day. Having woken up, like many others, to find that the New-Labour-Ninjas had struck in the dead of night and left me with an email claiming that my ‘values’ do not match those of the Labour Party and that I had thus been ‘rejected’, I took to social media to air my frustrations. Facebook friends expressed as much outrage as I felt, and Twitter, well, Twitter did what it does best and created a storm.
Reactions to this second tweet surprised me most, even though I should really have expected a lot of the responses. Most people, just as shocked as I, continued to draw Orwellian, and in some cases Neo-Nazi associations. Some, more worryingly, claimed to have used this ‘service’, could not see the problem, and felt that the whole issue was quite plainly black and white– if you were not a ‘true’ member of the Labour Party you should not get a say in the Leadership election– this isn’t a general election, after all. The problem, of course, (Orwellianism aside) is that a lot of the people that have been ‘purged’ seem overwhelmingly to be supporters of Corbyn, and are mostly confused as to what they could have done wrong. There’s a lot of journalism from the past two days detailing case studies of those purged, and offering potential explanations and critiques (you only need to search #LabourPurge on twitter to get the best of it, or alternatively, simply google ‘Corbyn’) and so I don’t really need to go into that here.
What I am most concerned about, though, is the generational gap that seems largely to have been missed in all of this; there appears to be huge disparity between the New-Labour ‘faceless suits’ desperately trying to hang onto what they think their party best represents, and those ‘Corbynites’ who it has been suggested, are overwhelmingly of the Generation Y; 1/3 of Labour supporters who have recently joined are reportedly under 30. How many of those were purged, I wonder?
This gap– arguably also an ideological debate of values that seems to have interesting correlation with generation– is largely underlined by an article published in the Guardian today, that suggests that Labour should have seen this coming, and puts forward the argument that those only supporting Corbyn, and not the Labour party more generally, should rightly be prevented from voting.
“The old-timers feel that allegiances should be more tribal, and possibly involve suffering under a leader or two who you hate because you feel a greater commitment to the cause. The idea of the party, in this argument, is bigger than any single leader.”
This, really, is the heart of the shambles that has plagued this leadership campaign from the start. There’s a distinct division between those desperately holding on to the aims and values of New Labour, and those led by Corbyn who hope to take the party in a new direction. What makes this gap generational? Social media.
Where in this Twenty-First Century cyber-culture do people have a tribal loyalty in anything? We’re all encouraged to flippantly click, swipe, like, favourite, and share, but not to engage with anything for more than 30 seconds at a time. The fact that thousands of people have signed up to do anything that requires their attention for the span of an entire campaign is, quite frankly, remarkable, and Labour should welcome this support and renewed interest in their party rather than sinisterly assume sabotage. After this #LabourPurge what are Generation Y supposed to hold onto in British politics? After all, we’ve not exactly experienced much to inspire confidence in the current system.
I grew up in the centre of the New Labour governance, where my first memories of politics all come attached with an image of Tony Blair’s face. I was largely confused about politics as a kid, but I still carried with me a general sense that things weren’t right despite not being able to quite work out why. I knew that the Tories were unsupportive of people like me (coming from a ‘free school meals low-income family’ as I was increasingly taught to define myself) but I could also sense we weren’t getting much help from Labour either. The concept of New Labour was at this point alien to me, and I was unaware that the Labour Party’s origins were initially more socialist. I obviously didn’t know what socialism was, either. I distinctly remember, however, standing in the centre of the playground at the age of 11 on the day that the Iraq war was announced, wondering what was going to become of our country, having heard the news on the radio on the way to school. I was angry with Blair because I knew that these so called ‘weapons of mass destruction’ were a false excuse and I was frustrated because no one seemed to be doing anything about it. (I also frequently wondered that if an 11 year old could work this out, what the politicians of our country were actually doing..?!)
So I’m sorry if Labour haven’t inspired much confidence in me, and that as a result I haven’t voted for them in the past.
As soon as I was old enough and capable of following and voting in an election campaign (2010 was my first), I knew that I’d had enough of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and that the Tories were still not an option, and so was looking for anyone that promised a change. Enter Nick Clegg. He arguably provoked a similar reaction in his Liberal Democrat election campaign to that of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, albeit on a much smaller scale. (Let us not forget that social media has advanced and taken greater hold in the 5 years since this campaign, which might explain the foundations for #Corbynmania, allowing him to gain the ‘cult’ following that the Blairites seem to be so afraid of).
In the run up to the 2010 election, The Liberal Democrats support increased significantly, most likely as a result of his comparatively approachable personality (something lacking in past leaders) and views on tuitions fees–I know that’s why I voted for him. And then what happened? A Coalition government, and Clegg’s cowardly acceptance to triple tuition fees despite the promise to abolish them at the centre of his entire campaign. I don’t want to speak for an entire generation when I say that I was pissed off, and fed up with more of the same in politics, but I suspect that’s how most felt (take the student protests in November 2010 as an example). Many of us lost complete faith in the system, which at this point was largely directed at the Liberal Democrats, and so come the 2015 General Election, we were a lot more careful (if not infinitely depressed at the likelihood of change under the current voting system). Gradually, though, young people are becoming more and more involved in politics again (whether under trivial hashtags or otherwise).
And now what? Many that have gained a similar sense of hope in Corbyn have had their support for the Labour party rejected, and their votes denied. This doesn’t quite strike me as the best way to foster the next generation of voters, to nurture renewed interest in a Labour Party that suffered defeat and waning membership following the recent General Election. How are Generation Y voters supposed to have faith in the democratic process knowing that at any point, a vote that they were invited to sign up for may not be counted on the grounds that their views didn’t quite match those of the dying embers of the party? The difference between this and the disappointment engendered by Clegg, again, is the social media reaction, where people’s voices are heard far more widely. If a single tweet can foster a series of newspaper articles, imagine how much impact thousands can have on an election campaign.
If they’re not careful, not only will confidence and trust in the Labour Party be irreparably damaged, but the future of British Politics might be, too.