Monday 18 December 2017

Jeremy Corbyn and the Student Vote

Students are just for Christmas, not for forever! At least argues Chris Havergal for The Times Higher. According to polling done by the Higher Education Policy Institute and YouthSight, some 68% of undergraduates are backing Labour now - up 13 points from the last poll prior to the General Election. Happy days, right? Wrong. Brexit is, apparently, the reason why most students back Labour.

According to the research, asked what they think Labour's/Jeremy Corbyn's position on Brexit is, 55% and 58% respectively thought Labour and Jezza wanted to remain in the EU. Only 32% and 24% thought their positions were to leave the EU and retain access to the single market and customs union, which is more or less the settled view (with caveats around fudging and the like). Then asked if Labour was to more overtly support Brexit, including withdrawal from the single market and customs union, 42% said they were less likely to vote Labour next time.

This shouldn't come as news to anyone who has been paying attention. As we have seen on multiple occasions, the new class divide in politics, which is immediately presenting as an age cleavage, is effectively the story of a new, rising millions-strong class of networked (or socialised) workers asserting their political presence. Students, despite inhabiting a transitory social location, are part of this broad and broadening mass. The work many of them already do and can look forward to doing after graduation is less about making stuff and more about producing intangible things - knowledge, information, services, relationships. Increasingly, and this has been going on for decades now, you are hired for who you are and the social know how you mobilise and perform in "the role" (note, jobs don't exist any more). These jobs are varied and run the full gamut of powerless, insecure and low paid work (think retail, call centres, hospitality) to self-employed "creatives" to professional occupations, and so on. The production of the stuff of intangible labour is always an act of social production, of drawing on the competencies and knowledges we have acquired outside of work for their deployment in work, to achieve ends that are simultaneously social in their object and, most of the time, return value to the employer through a particular manner of exploitation. That also means immaterial labour is fundamentally cooperative, even if the immaterial worker is a single consultant or works on their own - hence socialised and networked.

The development of the internet and more recently the explosion of social media has catalysed and amplified these socialised characteristics. Everyday life in the advanced societies for most under-50s is partly mediated through self-expanding, self-generating voluntary networks. These are used for all kinds of reasons, and are the stuff of more than one fly-by-night moral panic about abuse and the disappearance of social life. More crucially, each line of the network is a connection along which information, emotion and affect flows, and the consequence, in spite of the doomsayers, is a greater condensation of the social. More cohesion, more recognition, experiences flit across the network at the blink of an eye, all the while pulling large numbers in a particular direction and endowing them with s certain common sense. What's the content of these background attitudes to life? A certain media literacy and a predisposition to trust their networks over broadcasters and the press. A more relaxed, accepting attitude to difference. And, crucially, an understanding that the right do not serve their interests and, indeed, actively work against them. Students (and young people generally) disproportionately support Labour not just because of a few eye-catching policies, like the tuition fee pledge, but because the party matches their common sense.

Fair enough, socially liberal students worried about their futures support the socially liberal party that talks about it being a better place. Where does the EU and Brexit fit into this? First is the basic, and correct, understanding that 40-odd years of integration is something that cannot be easily unwound, that it comes with a big hit to Britain's enfeebled economy, and they're the ones most likely to pay the price with reduced opportunities, fewer prospects, more insecurity and a continuation of the bleak vistas the Tories have hitherto thrust in front of them. The second is what you might call the popular ideology of the EU. In a society that, until recently, had been denuded of clearly articulated alternatives to Tory dog-eat-dog and the backward nationalism of the hard right, the EU presents a much more attractive proposition. It is, after all, a voluntary union of formerly warring neighbours, and appears to be a living example of cooperation. And if the people who are trying to do you down hate it, then it can't be all bad. In other words, like Labour, the EU is congruent with the popular common sense, despite its falling far short of the hopes invested in it.

Therefore, the EU is bound up with students' perceptions of their interests and how they see themselves. And this is why I object to HEPI director's Nick Hillman's comments about their research. He said this vote "could turn out to be as flaky as past student support for the Liberal Democrats". There was nothing "flaky" about this support, which surged after 1997 and the introduction of tuition fees. When the LibDems clearly, explicitly went back on their tuition fee pledges two minutes after forming the coalition government, they showed they were uninterested in their student support and so that support evaporated. That isn't flaky, that's sensible.

Nevertheless, the experience telegraphs a warning to Labour. We talk about a jobs first Brexit, but we need to emphasise and double down on keeping it as soft as practicable. When pressed, it's easy to say we don't rule anything in or out, but ultimately if the party allows itself to be seen acting against the interests of the students and the young we'll suffer for it. And rightly so.


Anonymous said...

Labour needs to bite the bullet and come out against Brexit. I'm fed up of being told by tories and mainstream journalists that "the country" or "the people" voted Leave. The Leave majority was about a million, that's 1/64th of the population, and many of them are now already dead while newly-registered young voters mostly think Brexit is suicidal. Old people who live in the past and are sustained by pension funds invested worldwide should not get the chance to wreck the opportunities of their children and grandchildrens' generation. Unfortunately I can't see Labour tackling this head-on because the dinosaurs who still control many CLPs are still obsessed with their "core vote" and in some cases treat the younger voter almost with contempt.

RosaL said...

60% youth unemployment in southern EU. Financial tariffs on imports of finished goods from developing countries. Discrimination against qualified immigrants from noneu states. Just some of the "benefits" of the brave world ordered by the unelected, unaccountable old eumen in suits. Their diminishing economic outlook will not sustain your