Analysis

British Young People Take Revenge for the Brexit Sin

Young British voters have apparently learned the lesson of the previous election and refused to let older generations determine their future

Britain's opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Labour Party headquarters in central London on June 9, 2017.
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP

Politics in the West have been organized along clear lines since the Brexit referendum 11 months ago. On one side are older voters, people who live outside the power centers and the working class who have been left behind in the revolutions of the age of automation, globalization and the internet.

On the other side are the residents of big cities, the young and the middle class who have embraced globalization and the liberalism that goes with it. Only in France did pensioners break the pattern by voting against nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen.

Votes for the two major parties in Thursday's election in Britain also followed  these lines. Older voters supported the Conservatives, who presented a nationalist and parochial platform, while younger voters supported Labour, which despite party leader Jeremy Corbyn's classic socialism represented an open, international and liberal worldview.

According to Sky News, 63 percent of people 18 to 34 supported Labour, compared with 27 percent for the Conservatives. Among people 35 to 54, support was equally divided between the two parties, and among those over  55, the Conservatives won 59 percent to 23 percent.

It seems British young people have learned the lesson of the previous vote and refused to let older generations determine their future. In the Brexit referendum, 90 percent of those over 65 voted, compared with only 64 percent of young people, who are seeing their future as European citizens cut short.

This time they didn’t take any chances and rushed to the polls. Labour gained the most strength in districts where the percentage of voters 18 to 24 was the highest, and according to different estimates the voting rate among those 18 to 25 stood at 66 to 72 percent. In the 2015 general election, only 45 percent of young people voted.

This high voter turnout among young people and the mobilization for liberal candidates – which was also noticeable in European elections that rejected the far right – raises hopes that the eulogies for liberal democracies and the prophesies of a new wave of nationalism and xenophobia are a little premature. Young people have shown that despite the accusations that they are part of an indifferent and detached generation, they understand that their future is still determined in the polls, not on Facebook.

And yet, despite the optimism that emerges from the new voting patterns of the young generation, the other message cannot be ignored. Once again, British voters came out to punish establishment candidates and show their disgust with the existing situation. While Labour and Corbyn represent the opposite of the nationalism and seclusion reflected in the Brexit vote, the party leader's achievement stems from the fact that he's the mirror image of the average British politician. That's why pundits who hadn’t yet learned the lessons of the past year predicted he was an "unvotable" candidate.

Nevertheless, Labour is still very far from forming a government. In fact, the Conservatives are indicating they plan to try to rule with the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which opposes LGBT rights and abortions and denies global warming.

Even more importantly, the British voters' decision, just as in the Brexit vote, means more instability and political chaos in the U.K. This comes at a particularly important moment for Britain and the Continent – days ahead of the launch of negotiations on separating from the European Union.