One of the ironies of contemporary British politics is that many younger voters – some of whom are so opposed to eurosceptic baby boomers that they accuse them of ‘stealing their future’ – are also enamoured with Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is, after all, a eurosceptic baby boomer who some still speculate might have secretly voted Leave at the referendum.
But a poll out today suggests that the Corbyn coalition is finally beginning to creak under the weight of this contradiction. According to an Opinium survey, commissioned by For our Future’s Sake (FFS), the student wing of the People’s Vote campaign, just 23 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds approve of Corbyn’s handling of Brexit; 37 per cent are opposed. This follows a YouGov poll in December – also commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign – which suggested that young Labour supporters would desert the party if Corbyn went into the next election pledging to implement some version of Brexit: support for Labour among 18- to 24-year-olds, the figures suggest, would fall from 60 per cent to 33 per cent, with the unambiguously anti-Brexit Lib Dems being the main beneficiaries.
This was, perhaps, inevitable. Labour has only committed itself to consider backing a second referendum, if and when other options are exhausted. What’s more, Corbyn is obviously wary of calling for one – partly because of his own eurosceptic sympathies, but largely because he fears alienating voters in Labour’s old, blue-collar, Leave-backing strongholds.
Though younger voters flocked to Labour at the last election, they are also broadly pro-Remain, and their support for Labour is clearly not unconditional. As Sir John Curtice has pointed out, British politics is now polarised around the issue of Brexit. Just nine per cent of people identify strongly with either Labour of Conservative, he notes, but 44 per cent identify strongly with Leave or Remain. Young people are no doubt well represented among these Remainers.
Whether or not young Remainers are who Corbyn needs to prioritise in order to have a chance at the next election is, of course, far from clear. Being seen to betray Labour Leavers would, arguably, be far more damaging. As Richard Johnson from the university of Lancaster points out, 72 per cent of Labour’s 25 most vulnerable seats are pro-Leave, as are 78 per cent of the 45 seats it needs to take from the Tories. But if nothing else the poll published today reminds us how paradoxical the youth pro-Corbyn and pro-Remain movement is. They back Corbynista policies that Corbyn himself admits might be hemmed in by EU rules. They spend all their time railing against neoliberalism, yet are desperate to stay in the neoliberal EU club. They claim to be on the side of ordinary folk, but want to overturn the biggest mandate in British history.
That Corbyn, a lifelong eurosceptic, plumped for Remain at the EU referendum, and is now at the forefront of pushing for a softer Brexit, dashes any claim he might once have had to be a ‘man of principle’. That so many of his young supporters want him to go even further, shows just how un-radical, how fearful of ‘the many’, this entire movement is.
Tom Slater is deputy editor of spiked