We young voters grew up with austerity. Now we want change | Tobi Thomas

Where else is there to go if you, like me, want a tolerant and inclusive society?

My generation’s coming of age has coincided with coalition and Conservative governments. Austerity, which has shaped our formative years (I’m now 22), was framed as a fiscal necessity. But the severe cuts to government spending made an impact on healthcare, youth services, education and many other public services. These aren’t just abstract spending cuts – they are viscerally felt on the ground. In Camden, the London borough where I attended school, the council’s budget has been reduced by £169m since 2010. It was highly noticeable while growing up.

But austerity wasn’t a blanket policy that affected everyone equally. Research has shown that the “northern powerhouse”, more a notion than a set of policies, has been severely undermined by austerity. Also, low-income women from black and Asian backgrounds are disproportionately bearing the brunt of austerity. The recent frenzy among friends my age to open help-to-buy ISAs before the deadline does not eliminate the barriers we face to home ownership; 70% of young people believe owning a home is near impossible.

This election comes at a pivotal time and offers a chance to alter this trajectory. With engagement among young people increasing, a politics that addresses our material circumstances couldn’t be more pressing. The sense of dissonance between the priorities of the Conservative leadership and younger generations is glaring, both in terms of policy positions and values. The Tory manifesto mentions the climate crisis only 10 times, compared with 60 times for Brexit. The Windrush scandal, and the continuing fight for justice, serves as a reminder of how Conservative immigration policies have cultivated an atmosphere of fear among immigrant communities. The hardline immigration policies of the home secretary, Priti Patel, coupled with Boris Johnson’s assertion that he is in favour of having “people of talent” come into this country as long as it is “democratically controlled” reinforces the dichotomy of the “good” and “bad” immigrant.

The material effects of coalition policies, combined with a worldview that doesn’t fit with ideas of tolerance and inclusivity, have resulted in an urgency for change.

The idea of a cult of personality surrounding Corbyn may have made sense during the 2017 election coverage, but there now appears to be a shift among young people. Labour’s inability to comprehensively address its problems with structural racism, especially antisemitism, is damning. And this has not been ignored by young Labour campaigners. Among young party volunteers campaigning in Putney, south-west London, one, despite being a member of Momentum, mentioned that there was a “tacit agreement not to mention Corbyn on the doorstep”.

If we’re still on board with Labour, it’s because of innovative and transformative ideas that have brought vibrancy and intellectual curiosity to a young electorate. Labour’s commitment to a green industrial revolution makes concrete steps to address the climate crisis. Labour’s current position on immigration reflects the values that many young people like me share – that freedom of movement isn’t a necessary evil, as it was portrayed during the Brexit referendum, but, rather, a part of a tolerant and inclusive society.

Although the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the Labour manifesto is failing to offer a “properly credible prospectus”, what is deemed properly credible doesn’t convince when we are faced with the continuation of the status quo.

Young people are driven by a need to change the policies and values espoused by the government, a tangible change that will address the material inequalities between generations, as well as a moral shift. Pledges such as free hospital parking for a select few workers and in-patients won’t begin to shift the deep-rooted inequities.

Johnson’s use of vulgar andoffensive language, including referring to Muslim women as “letterboxes” and the children of working mothers as “unloved and undisciplined”, fails to represent the moral values we want our society to embody.

But longing for a deep political change should not be equated with an unequivocal and blind endorsement of Corbyn. Instead, it’s about the ideas behind a compelling alternative we’ve been offered, in contrast to a society we feel we haven’t always had a stake in.

Tobi Thomas is a journalist who received the Scott Trust bursary in 2019

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Tobi Thomas

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