It’s hard to ignore the media circus around this year’s election, and I say this year because they seem to be an annual thing now. Focus has been locked on the two main party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson with little else other than Brexit discussions piercing through the fog of this popularity contest.
Repeatedly throughout their campaigns I have heard traditional Labour voters saying they aren’t going to vote red because they simply do not like Corbyn. When asked why this is most of the time the answer is that he is, allegedly, anti-Semitic or has historical links to the IRA. Likewise with Johnson if you ask why he is disliked he often is called a racist or perceived as an absolute idiot who would not engage in hard questioning. Yet these were the only two viable options. Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats was barely mentioned in the build up to the election even though the Lib Dems are often seen as a third horse in this race. So why were we so focused on these two men?
I believe it’s because Britain has not had two such polarizing characters up against each other in years. Think about David Cameron (Con) versus Ed Miliband (Lab) neither of them were divisive, both came from the same stock just falling on slightly different sides of the political spectrum. Even throwing Nick Clegg (Lib Dems) into the mix they are all essentially the same man. Cookie cutter, clean politicians all from Oxford or Cambridge looking not to stir the pot too much. In comes Johnson who despite having this elite education was seen as a joke candidate. He is messy and unruly, and so appears to be more relatable to the public. Whether this is a public persona or not is beside the point, the affect it had on the public was to endear people to him during his years as Mayor of London before his push to be elected.
On the other side of this coin is Corbyn. He was more left than most other Labour candidates have been, certainly more on the socialist side than ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair – another Oxford graduate. Jeremy Corbyn managed to do what MPs have struggled to do for years; to engage the young adult voters. In fact in a pre-election poll by yougov.uk 38% of people ages 18-24 would vote labour against a miniscule 9% of those in the 70+ bracket (YouGov Poll). It is hard to ignore the fact that Corbyn captured the young voter’s hearts in a way Britain has not seen in a long time. However, within older generations it is clear that Corbyn has alienated a large amount of people who are more comfortable with traditional Labour policies. Those who voted for Tony Blair or Ed Miliband are not the same as those who would vote Corbyn.
Johnson did not rock the boat within his voter demographic but Corbyn did and ultimately that cost Labour to the tune of 42 seats. Corbyn exposed an identity crisis within his party, are Labour centre left or are they firmly left-wing? With Corbyn stepping down after his defeat and a new leadership election imminent, Labour needs to decide where they stand or they may not win an election again for a long time.
Johnson and Corbyn suggest a rumbling movement in Britain for someone different to lead but those lifelong voters are not yet willing to take this step. Whilst Brexit will have had a huge influence on people this election period, it is undeniable that personality and public image was a deciding factor.
Words by Danni Scott