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Tuesday 30 May 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Yui Mok Jeremy Corbyn speaks to the crowd from the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury.
Opinion '"Oh Jeremy Corbyn" might be the summer political anthem of 2017'
But don’t expect the Corbyn hysteria to last when Britain becomes poorer, writes Simon Foy.

“CORBYNMANIA” IS THE phenomenon of the summer, or so it appears. Chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army” reverberated through the Somerset fields of Glastonbury last weekend.

The man himself took to the Pyramid Stage on Saturday afternoon – manifesto in hand – to deride “elites” and make some other sweeping criticisms of the government and the general plight of the UK. The young crowd swooned. Corbyn was clearly in his element.

The Labour leader has been on something of a victory parade since the general election. The only problem, however? Labour lost the election. The party received only 4 more seats than it did during Gordon Brown’s electoral thumping in 2010, and this time, against the most disastrous Conservative campaign in a generation.

Corbyn has managed to tap into a youth anger

Yes, Labour’s vote share increased. But so did that of the Conservatives as smaller parties lost support and votes consolidated with the two main parties. That said, Corbyn did outperform expectations.

Much of this unexpected success has been attributed to a substantial youth turnout in favour of Labour. That is not the full story, however. YouGov, a pollster, estimates that turnout amongst 18-24-year-olds was only 59 per cent – up from previous elections but still a full 10 per cent lower than the overall national turnout.

Rather the most significant factor that led to an increase in Labour’s vote share was middle-class “remain” constituencies switching to Labour in order to deny Theresa May the mandate she craved to pursue a “hard Brexit”. Indeed, there is a certain irony to this given Labour’s stance on the issue.

Nonetheless, as the scenes from Glastonbury highlight, Corbyn has managed to tap into a sense of anger and frustration amongst younger generations and form something of a cult of personality around him and the radical Labour leadership. This is a worrying development for several reasons.

Brexit will disproportionately affect the lives of the young 

Glastonbury Festival 2017 - Day 2 PA Wire / PA Images Corbyn addresses the crowd from the stage at LeftField at Glastonbury 2017. PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

Firstly, even though Corbyn managed to move attention away from Brexit during the election, it remains the most serious issue facing the UK since the Second World War – and one that will disproportionately affect the lives of young people.

Labour’s official policy is barely distinguishable from the Conservatives: leave the single market, leave the customs union and significantly reduce immigration. The party’s “hard Brexit” stance was further cemented on Thursday evening after Corbyn sacked three MPs from his shadow cabinet who voted in favour of an amendment to the Queen’s Speech that called for continued membership of the single market.

Many commentators have pointed to the fact that the atmosphere at Glastonbury last year was melancholic and downbeat after the UK had just voted to leave the EU. Where was Jeremy Corbyn then to explain his utterly lacklustre contribution to the Remain campaign?

Other than taking a jibe at May’s proposals on the residency status of EU nationals by proclaiming “I think they [all EU nationals] should stay”, there was no mention of Brexit in Corbyn’s speech at all. Where was his reassurance to the thousands of young people in the crowd that their standard of living won’t fall over the next few years as a result of a policy his party is supporting? There was none.

Corbyn is happily waving through a Ukip-style “clean-break” Brexit that will damage the prosperity and opportunities of young people while, at the same time, claiming to be their champion. This hypocrisy should not go unchallenged.

Corbyn’s manifesto was a long wish list of very expensive promises

Secondly, young people, among others, are understandably fed up with cuts to public services after seven years of austerity under the Conservatives – parallels can be seen here in Ireland. While there appears to be a growing consensus for greater public investment in both countries, populist promises shouldn’t give way to sustainable economic policies.

This country, better than most, knows the consequences of irresponsible public spending, and Corbyn’s manifesto was little more than a long wish list of very expensive promises, many of which are probably unachievable without substantially increasing government debt.

Yes, the manifesto was independently costed, though the equally independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) criticised its costings. The think tank argued that raising taxes to their highest levels in peacetime would “not raise anything like” the £48.6 billion claimed by the Labour Party. Even the most basic student of economics knows that, past a certain point, increasing tax rates does not correspond with increased returns.

At a time of great political and economic uncertainty for the UK, with growth already beginning to slow and inflation rising – depressing real wages – implementing such expensive and wide-ranging fiscal reforms would at the very least be a substantial risk. Free tuition fees may sound like a nice idea to young voters, but winning an election based on a list of populist economic promises is not the foundation for responsible government. Young people should not be so easily swayed.

Corbyn’s tolerance towards anti-western despots

Finally, the willingness of Corbyn supporters to overlook his past links to terrorist organisations sets a worrying precedent. Yes, these ties have been over-exaggerated by certain elements in the media, but to paraphrase the argument of some of his young supporters: “we don’t remember the IRA campaigns, so it’s not an issue for us.” This is concerning. The past should not be neglected but should rather form the basis of our decision making for the future.

This, combined with Corbyn’s tolerance towards anti-western despots and the appalling way he dealt with reports of Antisemitism within his own party should be a cause for concern.

Young people have every right to be idealistic and hope for a better future. They should not be uncritical and totally disregard pragmatism, however. Populists give simple solutions to extremely complex problems – Nigel Farage blames immigrants for Britain’s woes, Jeremy Corbyn blames “elites” and “rigged systems”. He has revived some important debates and ran an impressive campaign – particularly the way in which Labour harnessed the value of social media – but has few answers to the big issues of the day.

Summer phenomena come and go, as does the popularity of political leaders. “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” might be the summer political anthem of 2017, but the type of Brexit his party is supporting will make the last seven years of austerity look like a walk in the park. The Labour Party will be equally as culpable as the government for pursuing such a reckless interpretation of the referendum result.

Don’t expect the hysteria to last when Britain becomes poorer along with the prospects of its younger generations.

Simon Foy is a final-year history student in Trinity College Dublin and the Opinion Editor of The University Times.

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