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How the UK's Jeremy Corbyn snagged a huge chunk of the millennial vote

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, leaves his home on the morning after Britain's election in London, Britain June 9, 2017.
Neil Hall | Reuters
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, leaves his home on the morning after Britain's election in London, Britain June 9, 2017.

Jeremy Corbyn may have hit upon the next big political fad: Snapchat populism. The UK Labour leader finished second to the Conservatives in Thursday's general election, but with the party's highest share of the vote since 2001. The secret may be that Corbyn galvanized support among the younger "millennial" age group. It's effectively a new generation of grievance-pandering.

Both the number of people voting, and the number backing Labour, seem to have increased most in parliamentary constituencies with more young voters, according to a Breakingviews analysis using Office for National Statistics data. In the 15 constituencies with the highest percentage of 18 to 25-year-olds, Labour support was on average 16 percentage points higher than in the last election in 2015. Turnout also increased by more than the UK figure, though it was slightly lower in absolute terms.

"The new populism could target an age-group facing slow economic growth and limited access to asset wealth."

It's easy to see this as an anti-populist backlash – especially after centrist wins in the Netherlands and France earlier in 2017. The eurosceptic UK Independence Party's collapse suggests fading appetite for its rabble-rousing policies, and Britain's youth overwhelmingly supported Remain in last year's Brexit referendum.

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On closer inspection, it looks more like populism of a different stripe. The most prominent anti-Brexit party, the Liberal Democrats, saw their vote-share slide. And headline Labour policies explicitly targeted generational grievances, including pledges to make university tuition free and build 1 million new homes. Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders last year mobilised younger supporters with similar promises on higher education, while French President Emmanuel Macron's plan for a 10 billion euro "industry and innovation" fund looks aimed at jobless youth.

Just as Brexit and U.S. President Donald Trump's campaigns exploited injustices felt by those "left behind" by automation and globalisation, the new populism could target an age-group facing slow economic growth and limited access to asset wealth. The risk is that this results in superficial solutions, rather than thoughtful policy that genuinely reduces generational inequality. Snapchat populism would then just swap one type of grievance-pandering for another.

Commentary by Liam Proud, a research assistant at Breakingviews. Follow Proud on Twitter at @LiamWardProud.

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