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Politicians have spent years bribing boomers, so what's wrong with bribing millennials too?

About time somebody did.

All sorts of terrible opinions are flying around in the wake of last week’s election result. Over the weekend, I spotted both “This was a mandate for Hard Brexit” and “The DUP have always been our friends” in the wild, which suggests to me that several prominent members of the Tory commentariat may have been, unbeknown to the rest of us, suffering from severe oxygen starvation for quite some time.

Perhaps the most infuriating bad take, though, and certainly one of the most prevalent, is that the Labour Party’s 40 per cent share of the vote was gained entirely by bribing millennials to vote for it. Former Downing Street communications director Andy Coulson was scathing in GQ, accusing Jeremy Corbyn of making a “deeply cynical offer to buy those young votes with a promise to drop tuition fees”. My old mate Daniel Hannan MEP put it even more strongly, writing an article for the Washington Examiner under the headline, “Young Brits vote for free stuff”.

As you’d expect, for an argument made by Daniel Hannan, this is complete and utter bullshit of the most self-serving and least thoughtful kind.

Firstly, while we don’t yet have the complete data, it’s already clear that far too many votes swung to Labour for the result to be explained entirely by young people voting for anything. Youth turnout does seem to have been up (witness the swing in university seats); but Labour also received a big swing among people aged 25-44.

Even the bottom end of this age group is significantly too old to benefit from free tuition fees. Why an overwhelmingly pro-European generation who can’t afford houses should have voted against the Conservative Party is one of life’s little mysteries, I guess.

Secondly, it’s patronising. It assumes that young people could only have voted Labour because they stand to benefit personally from its policies – rather than, say, they believe in well-funded public services or a welfare safety net. These columnists seem to think that people could only vote the way they do for selfish reasons: I fear that may say more about them than it does about the generation they’re deriding.

My real problem with their argument, though, is this: what is actually wrong with voting for a party that you believe will spend money in ways that will benefit you? I suppose you can frame that as “bribery” if you want, but then, to the first approximation, every manifesto in history has gone out of its way to somehow bribe somebody or another. (One exception, to be fair, seems to have been Theresa May’s recent effort; this may go some way to explaining the events of the last week.)

There is of course a generation that our politicians have gone out of their way to throw goodies at over a period of decades. In their youth, the British offered them free education, university grants and generous unemployment benefits. As they grew up, it ensured they had access to home ownership, and as they got older, it cut their taxes. When the private pension system hit trouble, it encouraged them to buy other people’s houses too, and, terrified of losing their votes, it created the “triple lock” to guarantee the value of the state pension.

The logical corollary of all the terrible “Corbyn buys the votes of the young” takes is that, somehow, offering financial incentives to vote for a particular party is some dreadful new phenomenon in British politics. But it isn’t: successive governments have been bribing the vast baby boomer electorate to vote for them for more than 40 years.

This might have been fine when wages were soaring. For the last decade or so, though, they’ve flat-lined: boomer-centric policies have meant asking millennials to pay for their parents to have privileges they are unlikely to have for themselves.

I don’t believe for a moment that Corbyn’s manifesto cynically bought the votes of the young. But I rather wish it had. It’s about time somebody thought them worth bribing.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Why Jeremy Corbyn’s evolution on Brexit matters for the Scottish Labour party

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, an ideological ally of Corbyn, backs staying in the customs union. 

Evolution. A long, slow, almost imperceptible process driven by brutal competition in a desperate attempt to adapt to survive. An accurate description then by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, of Labour’s shifting, chimera of a Brexit policy. After an away day that didn’t decamp very far at all, there seems to have been a mutation in Labour’s policy on customs union. Even McDonnell, a long-term Eurosceptic, indicated that Labour may support Tory amendments when the report stages of the customs and trade bills are finally timetabled by the government (currently delayed) to remain in either “The” or “A” customs union.

This is a victory of sorts for Europhiles in the Shadow Cabinet like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. But it is particularly a victory for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn who comes from the same Bennite tradition, Leonard broke cover last month to call for exactly such a change to policy on customs union.

Scotland has a swathe of marginal Labour-SNP seats. Its voters opted voted by a majority in every constituency to Remain. While the Scottish National Party has a tendency to trumpet this as evidence of exceptionalism – Scotland as a kind-of Rivendell to England’s xenophobic Mordor – it’s clear that a more Eurocentric, liberal hegemony dominates Scottish politics. Scotland’s population is also declining and it has greater need of inward labour through migration than England. It is for these reasons that the SNP has mounted a fierce assault on Labour’s ephemeral EU position.

At first glance, the need for Labour to shift its Brexit position is not as obvious as Remainers might have it. As the Liberal Democrat experience in last year’s general election demonstrates, if you want to choose opposing Brexit as your hill to die on… then die you well may. This was to some extent replicated in the recent Scottish Labour Leadership race. Anas Sarwar, the centrist challenger, lost after making Brexit an explicit dividing line between himself and the eventual winner, Leonard. The hope that a juggernaut of Remainer fury might coalesce as nationalist resentment did in 2015 turned out to be a dud. This is likely because for many Remainers, Europe is not as high on their list of concerns as other matters like the NHS crisis. They may, however, care about it however when the question is forced upon them.

And it very well might be forced. One day later this year, the shape of a deal on phase two of the negotiations will emerge and Parliament will have to vote, once and for all, to accept or reject a deal. This is both a test and an incredible political opportunity. Leonard, a Scottish Labour old-timer, believes a deal will be rejected and lead to a general election.

If Labour is to win such an election resulting from a parliamentary rejection of the Brexit deal, it will need many of those marginal seats in Scotland. The SNP is preparing by trying to box Labour in. Last month its Westminster representatives laid a trap. They invited Corbyn to take part in anti-Brexit talks of opposition parties he had no choice but to reject. In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has been ripping into the same flank that Sarwar opened against Richard Leonard in the leadership contest, branding Labour’s Brexit position “feeble”. At the same time the Scottish government revealed a devastating impact assessment to accompany the negative forecasts leaked from the UK government. If Labour is leading a case against a “bad deal”,  it cannot afford to be seen to be SNP-lite.

The issue will likely come to a head at the Scottish Labour Conference early next month, since local constituency parties have already sent a number of pro-EU and single market motions to be debated there. They could be seen as a possible challenge to the leadership’s opposition to the single market or a second referendum. That is, If these motions make it to debate, unlike at national Labour Conference in 2017, where there seemed to be an organised attempt to prevent division.

When Leonard became leader, he stressed co-operation with the Westminster leadership. Still, unlike the dark “Branch Office” days of the recent past, Scottish Labour seems to be wielding some influence in the wider party again. And Scottish Labour figures will find allies down south. In January, Thornberry used a Fabian Society speech in Edinburgh, that Enlightenment city, to call for a dose of Scottish internationalism in foreign policy. With a twinkle in her eye, she fielded question after question about Brexit. “Ah…Brexit,” she joked. “I knew we’d get there eventually”. Such was Thornberry’s enthusiasm that she made the revealing aside that: “If I was not in the Leadership, then I’d probably be campaigning to remain in the European Union.”