The young have never lived through socialism. That they're starting to actually vote for it could be disastrous

Voters who find Corbyn's socialism attractive are simply too young to have lived through a big government, highly ...
REUTERS

Voters who find Corbyn's socialism attractive are simply too young to have lived through a big government, highly regulated, state-ownership economy.

OPINION: Elections in comparable countries always spark speculation about potential ramifications for politics in New Zealand.

But never like in the last 12 months. First came the Brexit vote, then the Trump presidency, next Emmanuel Macron came from nowhere to win the French Presidential election and last week the Conservatives in the United Kingdom just scraped in.

It's tempting to see these electoral surprises as all part of some developed country phenomenon that is bound to sweep into New Zealand and upset the political applecart.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders galvanised youth voters in America.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders galvanised youth voters in America.

At the moment it's difficult to see what the phenomenon is exactly and whether New Zealand's conditions are ripe for it.

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The results in the United Kingdom, France and the United States could all be reactions to a unique discontent, particular to each country.

Bernie Sanders is the answer for this young voter.
REUTERS

Bernie Sanders is the answer for this young voter.

The voters who supported the pro-European former banker Macron are quite different to the rust-belt dwellers who liked Trump's message of getting American factories working again.

No doubt the problems of job security, housing costs and disparity in living standards and wages are clearly behind a worldwide disaffection that drives the appeal of anti-establishment candidates who offer a fresh approach.

But strangely the new mood which is gathering most momentum is one that has helped the losers in the three elections mentioned. This shift is a surge in political activity among voters under 30.

Under a union-dominated NZ, seamen would hold up the ferries as soon as school holidays arrive.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Under a union-dominated NZ, seamen would hold up the ferries as soon as school holidays arrive.

What they seem to be doing is turning out in unusually large numbers to vote for left-wing agendas.

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Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders galvanised youth voters in America and socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon saw his numbers surge in the first round of the French presidential vote, mainly thanks to young voters.

But it's in the United Kingdom that young voters are credited with transforming politics. Young voters turned out in proportions equalling their elders and opted mainly for the socialist Jeremy Corbyn, rescuing him from oblivion and giving Prime Minister Theresa May a terrible shock. It wasn't enough for Corbyn to win but it seemed, bizarrely, like victory.

Listen to grandad. He knows.
MATT CARDY/GETTY

Listen to grandad. He knows.

"I wanted to see Theresa May get a bit of a kicking," George Hames, 20, who voted for Labour in London, told Bloomberg Politics.

"The way Corbyn has been able to paint a contrast between himself and May: He's given people something to vote for, not just pragmatically, but because they think it can change the world."

When young voters were not long ago written off as apathetic and uninterested in politics, the "youthquake" as some pundits are calling it, is a sudden and surprising development, especially since the leaders benefiting are geriatrics.

But we should have seen it coming. Unless they have a skill or talent in high demand, wages for the young are modest.

Even if they find a job for which they have trained or studied, they will have student loan debts to clear and high rents to pay.

They are less optimistic about home ownership than previous generations, particularly if they live in big cities, and feel they have to put more aside for their retirement than the greedy baby boomers who can depend on guaranteed superannuation payments.

With rapid technological changes and increasing employer expectations, job security must seem increasingly precarious. Somehow the capitalist, market-based system has, in their inexperienced view, failed them.

It's also understandable why young voters should find the socialism espoused by Corbyn, essentially a reactionary, attractive.

They are simply too young to have lived through a big government, highly regulated, state-ownership economy or to remember much about the disastrous socialism experiment in the Soviet Union.

Corbyn's United Kingdom would see a return to collective bargaining, nationalised rail, post and water, a free national health and education service, high taxes on the rich and massive Government investment in infrastructure. It sounds very much like New Zealand pre-1984.

Young New Zealand voters won't remember the endless strikes and ubiquitous regulation. Yes wages were high but only for workers with unions who could hold the country to ransom.

If school holidays were coming up, the seamen would stop the ferries across Cook Strait. When stock was banking up at the freezing works, the freezing workers would go out. The wharves were centres of industrial blackmail, pilfering and inefficiency.

It took weeks to get a telephone installed and New Zealand set world records for the length of time it took to construct anything. Yes we protected our industries but that led to cronyism, high prices and lousy quality. We had about one per cent unemployment but how many people actually worked?

The country ignored international realities.

By 1984, New Zealand was struggling with crippling balance of payments and budget deficits, was heavily subsiding exports and regulation, which had been used to freeze prices, had gone as far as it could go. A financial crisis was imminent.

The correction, when it came, was brutal, perhaps unnecessarily so, but choices were limited.

Perhaps the outlook for young voters in New Zealand is not nearly as bleak as those in UK, US and France but they will share some of the same views.

Our parties, desperately competing for the middle ground, will be wondering how they can harness this young voter disillusion. A bribe around education is always a good idea.

But tired, old solutions proposed by the likes of Sanders and Corbyn have been tried before and failed to produce a golden age. Young voters need a reminder. 

*Comments on this opinion piece have now closed.

 - Stuff

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