UK Election 2017: While British, US youth lurch Left, India's young stay firmly in Narendra Modi's corner

It is an indisputable fact that the results of the British general election firmly established the credentials of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a serious contender for prime minister.

File image of Jeremy Corbyn. Reuters

File image of Jeremy Corbyn. Reuters

His elevation could occur largely due to his overwhelming support among the youth.

Consider the facts: Hardly a month ago, Corbyn, the radical leftist, was considered a liability for Labour politics.

Soon after the Brexit vote last year, a majority of the shadow Cabinet resigned, voicing lack of confidence in his leadership. The parliamentary wing of the Labour party, in fact, passed a formal no-confidence motion against him. But Corbyn survived as leader as the majority of party workers stood by him.

Corbyn has been winning his seat as a Labour MP since 1983 (he was re-elected for the 9th time this year), but he has been a backbencher all through because of his extreme left-wing views that were perceived as an anathema to the general electorate.

Corbyn was catapulted to the leadership position because of the strange confluence of events: The Labour Party debacle in 2015 general election and the subsequent resignation of Ed Miliband as party head. But his election was seen as an albatross round the party’s neck by those who, for decades, saw themselves as frontrunners.

That is one reason why Theresa May, the prime minister, decided to advance the election by three years. She expected Labour to fall apart under Corbyn’s leadership; surmising it would help increase her party's seat share in parliament.

Everyone, including the majority of Labour leaders, also feared the worst – they were expecting a complete decimation of Labour as an electoral force – thanks to what was perceived as Jeremy Corbyn's unacceptable radicalism.

But Friday's election results were an earthquake. All calculations went topsy-turvy. The ruling Conservative Party was reduced to a minority. The ‘unelectable’ Labour increased its tally by about 30 seats and its vote share went up by a mind-boggling 10 percent (compared to 2015) which even eclipsed the record of nine percent advance in the 1997 landslide victory achieved under the leadership of Tony Blair, the most successful Labour leader in recent history.

How did this miracle happen? It was largely due to the unprecedented support Labour received from the youth. While the official data is not yet available and might not be for some time, credible private pollsters indicate a youth surge in Corbyn's favour. An exit poll survey by NME estimated the turnout among under 35s went up by 12 percent and nearly two-thirds of them voted for Labour.

Another estimate said that the turnout among 18-24 year olds reached a stratospheric high of 72 percent, compared to just 43 percent in 2015.

The sheer force of the youth turning out completely reconfigured the United Kingdom's electoral arithmetic. At the beginning of the campaign, in April, Theresa May started off with a +28 approval rating, whereas Corbyn began with a -23 approval rating.

By the end of the campaign in the first week of June, May’s rating had plummeted to +6 whereas Corbyn’s rating had blown through the ceiling, to a remarkable +39.

Labour did not win the election because the majority of older voters simply don't agree with it, especially Corbyn's policies to do away with tuition fees in educational institutions, to make education debt-free and increase the minimum wage substantially. However, these very policies forged a bond between Corbyn and younger voters.

Corbyn’s radical ideas – not cutting down on benefits to reduce the debt, raising taxes on the rich, clamping down on the exemptions on the corporate tax and using 93 billion pounds of withdrawn corporate tax relief to create a national investment bank – induced the youth to rally around him in a big way.

It isn't as if the youth overwhelmingly supporting a self-proclaimed socialist in his late 60s was a one-off spectacle in the heartland of capitalism. The United States witnessed a similar phenomenon during the battle for the Democratic nominee for president between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

While the 74-year old Sanders eventually went down to the Clinton machine,  Hillary had to admit that Sanders completely dominated the youth vote. The statistics said it all: Sanders won more votes among those under 30 than that of the combined vote of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the final contenders in the presidential race.

A report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University suggested that more than two million youth voted for Sanders in the 21 states that had been surveyed and where exit polls had included data on the youth vote. Clinton and Trump together garnered a little less than 1.6 million votes.

Why was Sanders a darling of the youth? Because he promised to take on Wall Street, make college less expensive and to take drastic steps to close the wealth gap, to ensure that the 1 percent who have accumulated more than the rest of the 99 percent combined pay their fair share.

So dramatic was his appeal among the younger generation that a later Quinnipiac poll, said that among 18 to 44 year olds, Sanders had the support of an overwhelming 74 percent compared to 23 percent for Clinton.

Contrast this picture — youth in the advanced capitalist countries rallying around left-wingers like Corbyn and Sanders — with the young folk in India who have found their saviour in Narendra Modi, a right-wing ideologue.

An India Today-CVoter poll in the run-up to the 2014 general election had this to say: 40.5 percent of those surveyed felt that the Indian youth was best represented by the BJP and Narendra Modi was their aspirational hero who could rebuild the nation.

This was further corroborated by a research article by Deepankar Basu and Kartik Mishra of the Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst in the Economic Political Weekly (17 January, 2015).

The rigorously-researched and statistically corroborated article headlined “BJP’s Youth Vote Dividend”, began like this: “This article aims to test the hypothesis that young voters, in particular, first-time voters, were an important constituency in determining that the outcome of the 2014 elections was in favour of the BJP. We measure BJP’s electoral success by the change in its vote share between 2009 and 2014, and capture the importance of young voters by their share in total votes in 2014. While vote share data is from the Election Commission of India, we used the 2011 Census of India to estimate the share of young voters”.

This article had the following conclusion: “The empirical analysis presented here shows that BJP’s electoral success in 2014 – measured as the change in vote share between 2009 and 2014 – was crucially dependent on the support of younger, especially first-time, voters. A cross-state regression analysis shows that states with a 1 percentage point higher share of first time voters (age group 18-22 years in 2014) in the state’s population recorded a close to a 3.7 percentage point increase in BJP’s vote share between 2009 and 2014.”

The overwhelming support of the youth for the BJP put Narendra Modi at the same pedestal with Corbyn and Sanders. All three share a generational factor. At 67, he is a year younger than Corbyn and eight years younger than Sanders. Like Corbyn and sanders, Modi is the darling of the youth. But unlike Corbyn or Sanders, Modi is a fervent advocate of the Right in terms of political, social and economic philosophy. One would not hear Modi talk about closing the income gap, or taxing the rich more to fend for the poor.

The contrast is much more glaring because India is a self-avowedly socialist country, socialism being the guiding principle enshrined in the preamble to the Indian Constitution.

If the younger generation in India is not enthused by the socialist ideas, unlike the youth in the United Kingdom or in the United States, it could be because we lack firebrand leaders like Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders to fire the imagination of the youth for radical politics.

Or it could be because socialist principles have become an anathema for India's younger generation, quite unlike the youth of the advanced capitalist nations.

Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 17:00 PM

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