British politics may be far removed from the daily lives of Malaysians. But something important happened over there which signalled that the next generation of voters will determine the shape of things to come very differently. Young people will evoke electoral undercurrents not only in Britain but in many countries across the globe.
Jeremy Corbyn, a politician not widely known outside of Britain turned up at the Glastonbury Festival and received a response usually reserved for rock stars. 175,000 people were chanting his name. Who is Jeremy Corbyn, and why was he invited to a festival inspired by British counter-culture and headlined this year by the Foo Fighters, Radiohead and Ed Sheeran.
What does any of this has got to do with us in Malaysia?
Here, some of us are contemplating the next trendy food-outlet or speak-easy bar. Others are talking about the rising costs of living fuelled by GST and petrol prices, the political battles of an ex-PM and a PM, the 1MDB debacle and the precipitative effects of all of these on the economy. Even the divertissement from the Lee siblings across the causeway have only provided temporary relief.
Corbyn is a democratic, socialist politician espousing a leftist view that politicians commonly shy away from today. Obscured within his own party for a number of years, he was twice (and convincingly) elected as leader of the British Labour party. His own Shadow Cabinet and parliamentary colleagues deserted him, asserting that he was leading them to political oblivion.
Fueled by a rabid tabloid media (an English version of our MSM ), psephologists and eminent pollsters; political soothsayers emerged from social media predicting electoral doom for Corbyn and his party. His party-men through ill-predicted opportunism and expediency proclaimed that “he was not a leader”.
What happened later defied the odds. While he didn’t become the Prime Minister, the sheer number and share of votes he obtained clearly exhibited that he was riding on a movement which expected those in power to behave differently and make decisions which are consistent with a globalized worldview.
This was totally different from Trump-ism which harnessed the voting engine by intoxicating it with xenophobia, sexism and fear-mongering never seen before from a presidential candidate. The Millenial voting engine which propelled Obama to power expressed the preference for Sanders as the Presidential nominee and did not turn up in such numbers for Clinton.
Jeremy Corbyn, however, believed in a few fundamentals even before he rose to power as leader of the Labour party. Abolishing university tuition fees, renationalising some public services, free school meals and not selling arms to oppressive regimes are amongst them, but more significantly, his opposition to war as a ‘nauseating waste of lives and money’ has been solidly consistent. Despite the formation of the United Nations, more people have died in wars and conflicts collectively in the years since World War 2 due to inter-state conflicts. A resultant cost of US$2.5 trillion has been attributed to the costs of prosecuting wars post WW2.
In fact, the global conflict has made the world more unsafe than at any time in history with 65 million people displaced from their homes, with a third of them as refugees.
Can people in power deliver the much-needed and much-desired change for young people?
Are political parties and grand coalitions relevant to the young electorate who do not subscribe to the political views of their parents? The young also are not keen on politicians who “toe the party line.” Today’s youth mistrust politicians and only place their trust in people who advocate policies and programmes which are consistent with their own view of how the world should be run.
More than 50% of the world’s population is under 30, and 90% of them live in emerging and developing economies
If only 3 % of the oldest voters are replaced each year with voters from the other end of the spectrum (in terms of age, views and voting intentions) – in 5 years you would have a significant new “tribe” with policy demands which are real: nondiscriminatory policies in a more inclusive and globalized world; significant changes in both policy and funding for environmental, educational and healthcare programmes; job creation with digital and entrepreneurial velocity. Free Broadband (is the new clean water and air – a right not a privilege), and bridging the digital divide as a key social equalizer would also top the list of demands.
Are these demands not universal to good governmental manifestos? What could US$2.5 trillion be used to achieve instead of funding manufacturers of arms and weapons of mass destruction? Is a nuclear deterrent really necessary in a modern society? Who really gets richer when wars are created? The wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya have clearly created proxy forces that have made the world a more dangerous place, and unsafe for so many than at any time in history since WW2.
The youth of today feel politically-connected: they have risen up to the fact that unless they turn up, they may be robbed of their futures. As the youth demographic rises all over the world, they would vote against corrupt political regimes and administrations which subscribe to wars to resolve conflicts.
Young people’s idealistic expectations of government are measured by their belief that the government of the day is not the best avenue for change. They want their voices to be heard, demand greater access to public process and officials, and will resoundingly insist on higher standards of transparency and accountability.
Will Jeremy Corbyn will make it to 10 Downing Street one day? It not an improbable idea anymore. What this signal is that across the globe many new leaders will arrive, driven by a belief system consistent with the new politics of hope and optimism. This will send a powerful signal to elected officials, corrupt regimes, and those who espouse the transgressions of war to enrich themselves and their friends.