Last year, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party shook the foundations of UK Establishment and remade the landscape of our politics in a ‘Corbyn surge’ that was characterised more than anything by the excitement and engagement of young voters – and even those not old enough, under our outdated electoral laws, to vote.
Images and footage of huge crowds and long queues eager to hear the Labour leader speak at music festivals and outdoor venues baffled – and were foolishly dismissed – by pundits and politicians. The ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ chant started by young festival-goers at the Wirral Live event captured the spirit of young peoples’ engagement with Corbyn and what he stood for – but was still written off by ‘mainstream media’ (MSM) talking heads and front pages.
And then came election night – and the months that followed, in which Labour’s popularity continued to increase in spite of the best and worst efforts of the right-wing Establishment to smear and demonise the party’s leader and members.
Since then, the MSM and unfriendly politicians have tried to play catch-up, to fathom what drove the change, especially in engaging younger voters. Conventional electoral ‘wisdom’ had it, young people don’t vote and those who haven’t voted are unlikely to start.
But that ‘wisdom’ turned out not to be wise. Those who espoused it fail and flounder in trying to understand now what they didn’t see coming then, because they’re on the outside trying to understand what is to them an alien ecosystem.
That’s why Rise: how Jeremy Corbyn inspired the Young to create a new Socialism is such an important book – it’s written from the inside, by someone who is a native of the ecosystem yet with a big enough perspective to see it in context as well.
Liam Young has the unusual advantage of being only 22, yet having a breadth of experience and political awareness that many ten or twenty years older can’t boast. So he writes ‘Rise:’ as someone who ‘gets it’ because he ‘is it’, but is able to place the phenomenon of Corbyn’s – or as Young would put it, Corbynism’s – popularity among young people. And he makes ample room for other young people to be heard for their perspectives and experience as well.
The book has been criticised in one review for supposedly not quite knowing what it wants to be, but it’s a misplaced criticism that, I think, stems from the only real issue I take with the book: the title.
The word ‘inspired’ suggests the book is a look back at something – which it is, in part – but more important is the phrase ‘to create’. Space and conciseness don’t allow, but if they did, ‘how Jeremy Corbyn inspired and continues to inspire the young to create a new socialism that they’re continuing and will continue to create’ might get closer to what the book is about.
The looking-back is, for the most part, the necessary context or backdrop to the ‘present continuous’ action in the foreground – if you want to keep building something, you need to understand the foundations in their strengths (and weaknesses) and build accordingly.
And ‘Rise:’ is very well structured to be a blueprint that shows what was built and how/why it worked, as well as to identify the things that could have worked better and lay out what needs to be done to complete the project.
The book – in fact it’s two books in one – has a deceptively simple structure. Part one is the look back – what happened, why it needed to happen and why it worked. Part two, whose first chapter is tellingly titled ‘Moving on‘ looks at how to take what worked, change what hasn’t and build higher, bigger, better.
In its detail, Part one covers all the key realities and events up to and beyond 8 June 2017 – including, but far from limited to, the bankruptcy of the Establishment, its attempts to strangle the Corbyn phenomenon at birth, through to Theresa May’s hubris and poor judgment, the groundswell of the Labour general election campaign, the leaked and viral manifesto, ‘the politics of hope’, ‘Grime for Corbyn’, that chant – and of course the persistent inability of the political and media mainstream to grasp or accept what it all signified and was bringing.
Part two takes stock, looking at the key issues on which Corbynism appealed and continues to appeal to young people – including mental health; Brexit; the environment; the broken UK economy; the fiscal/monetary system; the seemingly-impossible-for-many dreams of home-ownership, job security and a decent life; correcting inequality and healing the gulf in life-chances.
It also provides a handy ‘how not to do it’ section with a look at Conservative party attempts to engage young people by tinkering at the edges of failed policies without fundamental change to a discredited politics.
And it looks frankly at how parts of the Labour Party have struggled to welcome and integrate new members – of any age – and have been terrified and outraged by the numbers and outlook of those inspired to join it, mirroring the outlook and response of the wider Establishment.
It then moves on to discuss how the party can – and must – improve its appeal to young people and its ability to harness their energy and gifts, before looking outward and forward, at corresponding phenomena in other parts of the world and at what lies ahead, concluding that ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet‘ in what is part of a ‘Global Revolution‘.
‘Rise:’ is neatly structured and concise; it avoids jargon and communicates a phenomenon that continues to baffle supposed ‘experts’ in a digestible, engaging way that can speak to and enthuse young people and older folk alike – and inspire them to seize the initiative to move forward, building as they go.
A bit like the Labour leader that inspired its writing, really.
Rise: how Jeremy Corbyn inspired the Young to create a new Socialism is available from today and can be ordered from Waterstones and other booksellers.
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