You know the feeling; June, 2015: you wake up, the day after the election (if you’ve actually managed to grab some sleep while all that cool election CGI is going on in BBC 1), and, despite the hope of all the pre-election polls, the Tories have won. By a crushing majority. Cameron is still in power and the Milibae dream is receding faster than his hairline. ‘But everyone I know voted Labour!’ you cry. ‘How did this happen?!’ Well, friends, welcome to The Echo Chamber.
Now more than ever before, the young are known for leaning to the left. Unlike in the Thatcher hell-days of our parents’ youth, the divide in politics is now a lot more to do with age, rather than class. You’ll find yourself hard pressed to find a Tory student (though they do exist), and I bet that pretty much everyone you know of a similar age – if they voted – voted left. Talk to your grandparents, on the other hand, and you’re more likely to find them blue through and through. One strategy that Labour social-media-ites suggested was having a chat to your grandparents to try and persuade them of the benefits of voting for Corbz. ‘Talk to them about how good it will be for their grandchildren! Make sure they’re aware of the fuel allowance issue!’. My grandmother had sent her Tory postal vote off long before I got round to chatting to her, but even if I had she wouldn’t have budged. As was the case with a friend’s grandma, who, despite being sent multiple reasons why voting Tory would be bad for my friend and her three siblings, was unmovable. This was a common post-brexit thought too, the old having decided for the young, who have to live with the consequences.
I think that, often, leaning left when you’re young isn’t taken seriously. Your grandparents mutter that you haven’t seen enough yet, that you’re an idealist, that you have no idea what qualities a prime minister needs (aka. none that Corbyn possesses), and, most of all, that you feel entitled for the vote to go your way. But when pretty much all of your small part of the world is voting the same as you, you’d naturally assume it would.
The Echo Chamber is classically a tool of false hope. It seems like everything’s going your [Labour] way because everyone around you believes in them and is voting for them. They post the Labour positive polls, the quotes from a rare converted Tory, fantastic tweets from Jezza and you repost them. And your friends repost them. And on and on until you’re surrounded by a reflective spiral of Labour positivity. Think of it as a house of mirrors, all reflecting the thing you want to see back to you until you forget that there’s millions outside of The Chamber who have completely different circumstances, thoughts, problems, etc. It doesn’t exactly encourage critical thinking when it comes to politics, and perhaps stunts compassion too. The Tory voter is seen as the Evil Other, deliberately voting for stagnation and terrible things, totally apart from you and your Good friends and your hunger for change.
I never want Theresa May to stop being a meme pic.twitter.com/Ket1zRdnCA
— George (@gjds_) June 14, 2017
Despite this, we actually probably engage with other’s political opinions way more than a non-social-media generation, basically because we had the election shoved in our faces way more than our older counterparts. We always do. If you’re going to shine a beam of pure information into your face whenever you have nothing else to do, you’re going to be bombarded by current events, especially if you’re an avid Twitter, or even Facebook user. This is true generally, but it seems to me that there was a lot more election based social media coverage this time around that even in 2015, and certainly a great deal more than in 2010. Maybe because of the excitement of a snap election, maybe because it was pretty much absurd from start to finish, maybe because there’s just a lot of ways you can take the piss out of Theresa May on the internet. Probably all of the above. For the seven week (hahaha what) run-up to the election, Twitter, for want of a better term, went off.
But, as much as it’s served us up plates and plates of false hope in the past, I’m here to tell you that you should stop rolling your eyes at your Echo Chamber. I actually think it was a pretty important force in ensuring the light in the darkness that was the outcome of this strange, strange election.
The top reason that people give for not voting is that they don’t feel like their vote will make a difference. Although this is frustrating, it’s kind of understandable in our electoral system. In some constituencies, your vote really will not make a difference. I’m from Horsham, a southern Tory safe-seat since pretty much the beginning of time, and if I hadn’t been lucky enough to be able to vote in my university constituency, my Labour vote would be an irrelevant drop in the ocean of Tory votes that spill out of Horsham every election. But this is where The Echo Chamber comes in and shakes it all up.
Imagine every single person you spoke to enthusiastically declared they were going to vote Labour, constantly quoted Corbyn and told you how many other people were saying the same thing, or liked what they were saying. That’s basically being on Twitter pre-election. Support for Labour and, more specifically, for Corbyn, was everywhere. Friends who I never had, and probably never would, talk to about politics, were all openly on the Corbyn train on Twitter. Think pieces exposing Tory weaknesses spread like wildfire whilst wholesome Jeremy Corbyn memes were retweeted with heart and rose emojis. Way more than in real life, the Labour leaning electorate felt like a real, tangible force on social media. A force that maybe, just maybe, could get the Tories out.
CANS CANS CANS CANS CANS CANS CANS
— Barry Gardiner Fan (@joelgolby) June 9, 2017
They didn’t, of course, but they came so much closer than any political pundits thought they would, and this was largely down to the young vote. The young voter turnout was higher than previously at 59% (YouGov) compared to 43% in 2015 (Intergenerational Foundation), with 63% voting Labour and only 21% voting conservative (YouGov). Because it felt like everyone was voting Labour, people felt like it was finally worth voting Labour.
Physically being able to see the amount of support that Corbyn had from real, actual people, whether friends, celebrities or random twitter retweets, rather than just being bombarded by percentages in polls, made it feel like we really could make a difference, so we did. The Echo Chamber may not have created a Labour win, but we got nearer than anyone ever thought we would, and it’s a big step in the right direction. Maybe next time, with even stronger encouragement and an even more confident force, we could do it.
Get Volume #19 here.
Words by Holly Carter