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  May 12, 2017

Can UK Labour Woo the Young and the Restless on June 8th? (part 1)

Thomas Barlow of Real Media says the large number of young people that are registering to vote in this general election could mean unexpected results
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Thomas Barlow is a journalist and organiser, and the senior editor of the UK-based Real Media. Thomas was formerly a festival organiser and music promoter. He has been a life long activist, particularly dedicated to environmentalism and anti-fascism.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. More than a million people have registered to vote in the UK elections since Theresa May called for the UK general election. The election is expected to be held on June 8th, and out of the one million submitted applications since April 18th, almost one third of them are under the age of 25, with another third coming from those aged between 24 to 34. This increase in interest from young voters comes at a time when registration rules have been changed to make it more difficult to vote in the UK.

Joining us today to discuss the upcoming elections in the UK and what all this young voter registration is all about is Thomas Barlow. Thomas has worked as a community organizer and activist. He's the senior editor and co-founder of the UK independent news outlet Real Media. Thanks for joining us, Thomas.

THOMAS BARLOW: Thanks for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thomas, give us a sense of what this surge of voter registrations are all about from a very young population.

THOMAS BARLOW: It's quite interesting that it's gone widely underreported, because it's very significant, because recently there was a poll that said that if only under 45s voted, Labor would win in a landslide. There has been an intergenerational divide. Naturally, over 60s tend to vote more, but also we've seen in both the Euro elections, the general elections, and then the Brexit elections, we're deciding the fate of young people. Basically, there has been a perception that the baby boomers have taken the gifts given to them by previous generations and then pulled up the ladder underneath them. Housing, education, healthcare, all of these gifts remain with them and maybe not the young people.

Other people have argued that maybe that's unfair, and that there isn't actually a generational battle, and in fact we should be concentrating on what affects us all, because of course actually the Conservatives are attacking old people as much as young people, and a lot of the services that affect them.

Anyways, in regards to voter registration, that 80% of new voters who registered are under 45 is very significant. They'll almost certainly be the vast majority registering to vote against the Conservatives. That might be SNP, Plaid Cymru, Lib Dem, or Labor. Probably the majority are Labor, but also we don't tend to poll unregistered voters at this time. The polls have been notoriously incorrect for the past three or four years on pretty much every occasion, so we're now in a situation where although the polls put the Conservatives in a significant lead, which has been shrinking, they may be wildly incorrect, so that actually these new voters make up actually now, in about 40 constituencies, the margin of victory.

This is a very significant development, and what comes of it, we don't know, but what we do know is that it's not been talked about much. We don't know where these votes are going, but it probably looks like quite positive for Labor and anti-Conservative voices.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. What and who is driving these new registrants? I understand some famous media personalities and artists have come out calling for people to go out and register, but what's really driving it?

THOMAS BARLOW: Yeah, it's hard to say, isn't it? Because people like Stormzy Jeremy, Big Narstie, have all come out. These are grime artists, the underground hiphop scene in the UK, have come out in support of Jeremy Corbyn, and people like Russell Brand and Owen Jones, who have become in their own ways significant political commentators, have come out and said young people should register to vote, that they always get left behind. How much impact that actually has, I am not sure.

I think there is a general sense that young people have been left behind and been left out of this conversation because largely they don't vote, but also because the Conservative Party and the governing coalitions have largely been made up and rely upon very old votes. In fact, if you took over 60s out of the voting pool, the Conservative Party would be the fourth-largest party in the UK. Young people are starting I think to realize, over the previous elections, that while actually older people are getting election fatigue, it may be that younger people are actually looking at elections now as an opportunity to make a political difference when previously they didn't. Now they're starting to realize they're being left out of the conversation because they haven't been voting in large numbers, and people are making that effort even though it is more difficult now.

SHARMINI PERIES: What is making it more difficult to register to vote in the UK? Are there new regulations that is applied now that wasn't there before?

THOMAS BARLOW: Yeah. The Conservatives brought in a raft of changes to make it more difficult in a number of areas. They're going to bring in boundary changes to constituencies, decrease the number of Members of Parliament, and a lot of other changes. Those haven't come in yet, but what has come in is that everyone has to do individual registration instead of household registration. Usually, one person in your house would register the entire family or everyone who lives under roof. You could do it that way.

Individual registration is slightly different. It puts more onus on people to register individually, which was thought it was supposed to impact students especially, who usually live in two places, so they wouldn't get reminders, so they wouldn't make the effort, because they'd only be able to register in one place. If they're registered at home, and they're not registered at university, they wouldn't do it. That was expected to have a negative impact on young people turning out to vote.

It looks like that hasn't been the case. In fact, it's encouraged people, or for whatever reason, this climate has encouraged people to go, regardless of the fact that this is more difficult and one person can't register everyone in a household. We're going to go out and do it individually anyway.

SHARMINI PERIES: Finally, Thomas, how important is this new generation of voters? We know it had a significant impact in this election for the Labor leader. Jeremy Corbyn was selected because a lot of young people went and registered for the party and voted when the membership voted for the leader of the party. That made a significant difference in terms of Jeremy Corbyn being the leader now. Given that, what impact will this under 25 and under 34, what have you, what impact will that have on this election, do you think?

THOMAS BARLOW: Yeah, it is hard to say concretely. Polling hasn't been done. As I say, this section of people, new voters, unregistered voters, and young voters are largely left out of the polls because largely they don't tend to have a large impact on elections. I would suggest that actually while it is not going to lead to a Labor victory, what it is going to potentially do is stop the Conservative landslide. I think there will be unexpected results, probably, on election night. The Conservatives, although they look like they're 15 to 20 points up in the polls in certain places, may not win that significantly.

It is hard to say at the moment, but this is a very large number of people. It's genuinely unexpected, and I think it will make a significant impact. There's still 10 days to go, so what we might see is even more young people signing up. There's potentially another million young people to sign up. Maybe we will see a million under 25s signed up in the next 10 days or two weeks, and that could have a really, really large impact.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Thomas. Thank you so much for joining us today.


SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.


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