Defying expectations: 5 gains for democracy from GE2017

Following a rollercoaster general election in which voters called the prime minister Theresa May’s bluff and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach proved an unexpected success: five ways democracy may have benefitted

1. Highest voter turnout in 20 years

Voter turnout was almost 69 per cent, the highest since 1997, and up 2.6 per cent on 2015. If you believe in democracy, this can only be a good thing. Record numbers of people signed up to vote on deadline day before registration closed, with more than 600,000 names added to the electoral roll in the final 24 hours.

2. Students make their mark

Young people went some way to defy their reputation as reluctant voters, by turning out in their droves. Early reports suggest that 72 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in this election, compared to just 43 per cent in the previous. Even in the EU referendum, just 64 per cent of young people went to the polls. Long queues were reported at many university polling stations, likely boosted in good part by Labour’s promise to scrap tuition fees.

“Some people are surprised,” tweeted Malia Bouattia, president of the National Union of Students, this morning. “We are not. #GenerationVote.”

Malia Bouattia, president of the National Union of Students

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3. ‘Inspire us’, say voting public

The results suggest that people want to be inspired not lectured. The Conservatives still won 312 seats to Labour’s 260, but the Tories’ carefully controlled, soundbite-driven campaign, which included a focus on criticising its opponents rather than promoting and detailing its own policies, seems to have put many people off. Corbyn, with what is widely seen as a more engaging, authentic and constructive approach, is perhaps a reminder that passion and hope matter. “Whatever the final result, our positive campaign has changed politics for the better,” Corbyn tweeted in the early hours of this morning.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Image: Garry Knight

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, (unsurprisingly) applauded Corbyn’s ‘positive’ campaigning style and warmth in communicating with voters. “I think people have got fed up with the yah-boo politics and some of the nasty tactics that have gone on recently,” he said this morning. “I think it will improve politics in this country overall.”

4. Healthy political disruption

Though the UK faces a great deal of uncertainty – not least in terms of the Brexit negotiations due to begin next week – the result is exciting to many as a reminder that politics as usual can be disrupted. The Tories’ confident expectation in a sweeping victory was shown to be misplaced.

Meanwhile, the success of Jeremy Corbyn – who had been written off by Labour colleagues and Tories alike just months ago and who began his campaign to be Labour leader as a 100-1 outsider – shows that voters, the young and politically marginalised in particular, can be engaged with big, bold ideas.

Students seem to have been particularly inspired by the 2017 general election

5. A shifting media landscape

Many have suggested that the result shows the power of the rightwing press, which dominates the traditional media landscape, is waning. “Who’s afraid of the Sun and the Daily Mail now?” writes the Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff. Aggressive Tory support and malicious attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by rightwing tabloids looked likely to damage Labour’s chances but the party made significant gains. Does this morning’s result suggest the power of these newspapers is declining?

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