Europe News

Millennials: Taking down The Man?

Proud to call myself a socialist: Corbyn
Left-wing idealist rallies UK Millennials

A new wave of political engagement in European youth is taking place – and the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn, one of the U.K.'s most left-wing MPs to lead the opposition Labour Party is its latest manifestation.

There is a distinct pattern in the young people CNBC spoke to at a Corbyn rally in West London: disillusionment with politics; the lack of choice in mainstream politicians, and enthusiasm for what they see as the genuine alternative offered by Corbyn.

"The thing that's different is that all the other leaders seem to be dictating to us, telling us from the top down what we should do, but really this is a representative system, and that's what I think Jeremy will do so well, he'll take our views into account," Abhijay Sood, 18, told CNBC.

"When it comes to his foreign policies, when it comes to his anti-war stance, it's really important that he makes that link between the billions of pounds we're spending waging war in other countries, he's putting that back into society right here the UK, and I think that's why young people are so encouraged and inspired by Jeremy Corbyn," Shaadia, 23, told CNBC.

Justin Tallis | AFP | Getty Images
Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza
Has Syriza ruined it for Europe's populist parties?

His policies mark a notable departure from the movement towards the central ground pursued by the Labour Party leadership since Tony Blair was elected leader in 1994. He is in favor of: abolishing tuition fees for university; abandoning austerity in favour of "people's quantitative easing" and renationalizing the U.K.'s railways.

And idealistic under-30s turned off by other Westminster politicians seem to be responding. Close to 150,000 new members or supporters have signed up to Labour since May – nearly doubling the party's size. More than half of the of 18- to 24-year-olds eligible to vote in the leadership election will cast their first preference vote for Corbyn, according to a recent YouGov poll.

Social media is a key part of how millennials find out about the world and how they can become politically engaged, according to Rachel Stroud, program manager, Do Something UK.

The Corbyn campaign has effectively harnessed social media to get people to sign up to the party to back their guy. The Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader Facebook page has garnered 60,000+ likes, and the #VoteCorbyn #JezWeCan Twitter hashtags trending.

Corbyn himself has been around for decades on the outskirts of U.K. politics, following often unpopular causes and voting against his party's wishes on high-profile issues like the Iraq War. Yet he seems to be part of a switch towards left-wing candidates offering more of that unquantifiable substance "hope" across the often beleaguered youth of Europe. With close to 50 percent youth unemployment in both Greece and Spain, is it any wonder that the ideology of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been backed by electoral success?

Is the UK ready for a socialist leader?

Yet the average U.K. voter may not be easily turned from the center ground they have ploughed in recent elections.

"The members of the party want something real and different, but does that represent what the average voter wants in 2020? We don't know that yet, but probably not," Tony Travers, a professor at the department of Government at the London School of Economics, told CNBC.

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle