There was a time during the 1980s where stand-up comedy, thanks to the hedonistic hellraising of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, became the new rock ‘n’ roll. It had happened before with American luminaries like Bob Hope, but this time it was different – younger people, a new generation, were filling stadiums to not watch a five-piece band rattle the room, but to hear the barbs and blasts of one man, standing alone on an arena stage but demanding the attention of thousands.
In 2017, there has been something of a similar resurgence, although the proceedings, and the eventual outcome, proved to be no laughing matter. It was a Tuesday evening in Birmingham, a traditional English summer evening mired by moody weather and threatening speckles of rain. To an ignorant passer-by, the bulging crowd – made up of staunch, old-fashioned socialists and young, passionate and fiery faithfuls – were assembled for a shoegaze concert. However, instead they were here to heed the words of the general election’s good guy, the belittled battler Jeremy Corbyn, who had amassed the populist zeal like any indie outfit.
When Theresa May had announced the general election, it was supposed to be a victory lap. It was meant to be May and the Conservatives strengthening their stronghold on the country, like a creeping vine ready to finally take hold of the first floor. In short, it was meant to be easy. The die had been cast and the plans had been set, but one thing the Conservative party failed to realise was that May, unlike their predecessor David Cameron, lacked the articulation and natural ability to talk and debate with fire and skill. In short, she could barely speak – even her victory speech felt fumbled and stilted, like a radio intern being forced to step in front of the mic for a drivetime show.
May’s decision ended up akin to the late Jade Goody’s decision to return to Big Brother – what was supposed to be a simple ascension became a blemish that would curtail their career. May’s steadfast refusal to debate Corbyn and her violent switches in decision-making left the Tories’ campaign in ruins.
But enough about the Tory party. The outcome has proved to be disappointing and incredibly divisive, even dangerous. What positives can that passionate crowd from Birmingham take from the outcome? There isn’t much as of yet. But is a generation engaged and enamored with politics a minor victory?
Social media proved to be one of Corbyn’s greatest collaborations, whether he was aware of it or not. He tapped into a generation adept with Snapchat and Instagram, his policies chiming with people naturally concerned with the great gulf between themselves and the Conservative party’s archaic, inclusive beliefs and disgustingly archaic desires of fox killing, NHS privatization and dementia tax. Not only that, but the Labour party had found a leader with the charisma and steadfast beliefs of Tony Blair. But this was different from Cool Britannia – instead of Noel Gallagher chumming it up at Downing Street, Corbyn was keen to connect with even the most disillusioned of voters, becoming an honorary member of Boy Better Know.
What’s more, Corbyn no doubt left the Tory party and their carefully stitched together PR in tatters – their verbal grenades, focused on Corbyn’s IRA ‘past’ and polemic personality, failed to detonate once the public finally got to see Corbyn exposed – here was a speaker that had the confidence and devotion to his manifesto, an unwavering belief in the younger generation that, in turn, took him to their hearts like the scruffy grandfather of a long-lost CBBC sitcom. The Tory party had invested heavily in May but found themselves floundering when it became apparent her delivery was wooden and her promises flimsy, while even Corbyn’s fiercest detractors were surprised by his fire, zest and ability to connect.
After the results poured in, there was only one political candidate who should stand down. Corbyn had done his party proud, he had made a kinship that Ed Milliband tried and failed to do, and dragged Labour back into the limelight after taking damaging hits during the mid-noughties (like a political R.E.M.). May’s chief anecdote was a bizarre quip about running through wheat, while Corbyn was able to negotiate lighter questions with the right amount of gravitas.
The number of young voters that headed to the polls was the biggest in 25 years, and throughout the campaign there has been hunger, passion and desire from a generation wrongly riled and pilloried as uninterested, uninformed and flinty in their beliefs. With an outcome that’s damaging, disappointing and even dangerous, we have to take the positives. A young generation thirsty for change and passionate about politics is a silver lining that needs to stay.