The Battle for Young Britain

The photograph (credit: Leslye Stanbury) made me catch my breath when I saw it on Facebook.

These were obviously young people from Hastings & Rye – where I live; and where I was our parliamentary candidate for the last three General Elections.

It is easy to go along with the narrative in the left-leaning press outlets that I read: that our young people are instinctively progressive – anti-racist, environmentalist, socially liberal. And yet, clearly – as the photo proves – this isn’t so all across the country.

On some level it makes sense that there would be some Hastings young folk at the pro-Brexit demonstration. The constituency voted pretty clearly to Leave (55% to 45%) back in 2016.

And yet I found it genuinely sad and disappointing that we have obviously failed these young people in particular – failed to persuade them that membership of the European Union has serious benefits for them, and for their future.

This only goes to cement my view that, should we end up having elections to the European Parliament later this next month, or even the month after, we need to elect a cohort of Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament who are committed to holding routine surgeries in schools and colleges the length and breadth of the country. MEPs who are committed to working in partnership with teachers; and to spend time listening to the views of our young people, on how they see our country; and how they imagine their own future.

I believe there is an opportunity, with the help of simple surveys, to start to get a more scientific understanding of the political priorities of our school-age citizens. And this is not only interesting for the media and wider country; but it is useful to us as a party: to help us to understand how better to engage with a generation of young people who may be our allies and supporters of the future.

There has been a good deal said in the national media that the Remain campaign failed in 2016 largely because Project Fear was rejected. There should, instead, have been a passionate, emotional, gut-grabbing case for the benefits of EU membership.

How we have secured peace, prosperity, freedoms; how we have worked together to progress action on climate change, robust corporate taxation; how we have harmonised phone tariffs and late aeroplane reimbursements; how we have made progress on food labelling, ethics and standards.  How we have secured greater prosperity and assisted small and larger businesses with the removal of non-tariff barriers. All these things that are the important stuff of the daily lives of British families.

Now, with Parliament in chaos – in this uncharted political territory – in this limbo, when we do not know how long the UK will remain a full, top-table member of the European Union – it is the time for our party to work with our Liberal Democrat parliamentarian in the European Parliament (and any new team of MEPs, if elections do go ahead) to double-down; to do this work with our young people.

And then to shout about it.

* Nick Perry is an approved mental health professional and was the parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • A timely reminder. Thank you.

    One unsettling thought from the past. We look back at the Nazis in Germany and see images of old wrinkled men (mostly) and in some ways imagine that was the reality of the time. The depressing reality was that the Nazis were also a young peoples movement.

    My Dad was in the British army in 1945, one of the liberators of Belsen and a witness at various war crimes trials having gathered evidence that undepinned prosecutions. He met Irma Greis (the Beast of Belsen) when she was in captivity and was present at her execution. She was the same age as he was (25-ish) and, he said, one of the most physically attractive women he ever met. She scared the shit out of him.

    Her parents had been opponents of the Nazis and her younger sister stayed closer to their parents viewpoints.

    We need to work together, people of all ages, to uphold civilisation.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Apr '19 - 10:07am

    ” our young people are instinctively progressive – anti-racist, environmentalist, socially liberal. And yet, clearly – as the photo proves ……….”

    Those of us who aren’t so old that we can’t remember what it was like to be young know that this isn’t necessarily true. Not all of my friends would accompany me when I went off to protest against apartheid in South Africa or against American involvement in Vietnam.

    But enough of us did to make a difference. When the Common market came along in the early 70s, we didn’t view it as an “anti-racist, environmentalist, socially liberal” organisation. It wasn’t then and the EU isn’t now. We saw the then EEC is a capitalist club that makes it easy for multi-national companies to exploit workers throughout its member states, while the sovereignty of those states becomes increasingly meaningless, and putting us all at the mercy of a faceless unelected bureaucracy.

    So what’s changed over the years? Not much, except perhaps the bureaucracy now has the faces of Angela Merkel ( only elected in Germany but calling the shots in the EU generally) , Jean-Claude Juncker, and Michel Barnier. It’s healthy that young people should kick against the establishment. This includes the EU establishment too. In the absence of any real criticism of the from the European left who daren’t say boo to the EU goose, it’s not at all surprising that some of our young people are finding an outlet for their anti-establishment inclinations in far-right political groupings.

    Good luck in whipping up some actual enthusiasm for the EU. One way europhiles could make some progress is to show some willingness to be critical. It may seem a trivial matter but when the Westminster Govt suggested not moving the clocks many people in Scotland were openly hostile to the idea. Which is of course fair enough. When the EU proposes exactly the same thing there’s not so much as a squeak of protest. If the Americans interfere in the democracy of a Latin American country there are howls of protest. When the EU does the same in Greece there’s nothing. What is it about the EU that numbs the critical mental facilities of the centre left?

  • Yeovil Yokel 3rd Apr '19 - 10:39am

    I feel similarly to Martin. I think you’re making too much out of one photo posted on Facebook of one placard taken at a pro-Brexit demonstration. As a former researcher into original historical sources I would suggest treating such material with a great deal more circumspection.

  • Thanks for the comments and feedback! Edis: quite a story, I will read more…

    Agreed Peter that our young people should have a healthy scepticism of the establishment.

    And Martin (and YY): my daughters too are instinctively progressive. I was just making a mental note not to assume that all young people share their (and our) views… yet!

  • Harold Godwinson 3rd Apr '19 - 12:58pm

    What’s your evidence that the young people in the picture are not anti-racist, environmentalist and socially liberal?

  • Nom de Plume 3rd Apr '19 - 5:21pm

    The Battle of Hastings was a long time ago. Europe has changed a bit since then. Perhaps they should travel a bit more.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Apr '19 - 6:56pm

    @ John McHugo,

    “Ram home the point that there is nothing patriotic about Brexit.”

    This sort of comment is equally bad regardless of whether or not we replace the word ‘nothing’ with ‘everything’.

    Neither side has a monopoly on patriotism. All we can do, as individuals, is try to decide whether our country is better off being in the EU or out of the EU. And to what extent. There are several options. Full EU membership complete with the euro, Schengen, no-opt outs etc. Less than full membership like we currently have. Even less full membership such as we’d have with Common Market 2.0. Or absolutely no membership such as we’d have with no deal.

    Naturally, in a democracy, there will be a variety of opinion.

    But you think there’s only a single patriotic option?

  • Andrew Tampion 4th Apr '19 - 7:17am

    Like Mr Godwinson I see nothing in either this picture or this article that leads me to conclude that any of the pictured are anti-progressive, racist, anti-environmentalist or not socially liberal.

    It seems to me that this kind of post with the implicit assumption that anyone who is anti European Union is by definition a bad person is another arrow in the bulleye of our party’s reputation for tolerance.

  • OK, so there is a picture of some young people celebrating the losing side of northern German settlers in parts of what became England, after defeating an invasion of Danes near York, then losing to invaders from northern France, who were actually from Scandinavia a few years before.
    None of them could be described as Britons!
    Apologies for my CSE History if it’s lacking.

  • I understand your point Harold and Andy. Liberals are optimists. I hope you are right. As for the extrapolation I inferred… just look at the political company they are keeping?

  • Simon Banks 4th Apr '19 - 9:51am

    Fact: young people mostly voted Remain. It was the middle-aged and elderly who mainly voted Leave. The very old (old enough to remember the last war and not get an impression of it from comics) mostly voted Remain.

    Fact: in economically depressed places, especially seaside ones that have seen better days, the vote was heavily Leave and that will have been reflected in the youth vote.

    Comment: those young men look to me like the people who in my student days would have been Monday Clubbers. Remember, in his youth, John Bercow wore a “Hang Nelson Mandela” t-shirt.

  • You are right on the facts Simon. That needn’t obviate the work to be done by us in schools and colleges… But what are Monday Clubbers??!

  • Peter Martin 4th Apr '19 - 11:48am

    @ Simon Banks,

    “The very old (old enough to remember the last war and not get an impression of it from comics) mostly voted Remain.”

    I find this hard to believe. Do you have a reference for this statistic or are you just making it up?

  • chris moore 4th Apr '19 - 12:40pm

    In the age range from 18-25, 71% voted Remain, 29% voted Leave.

    So there were a large number of young Leave votes. Why should this surprise anyone?

  • chris moore 4th Apr '19 - 12:43pm

    Around 65% of the over 80s -” remembered the War” – voted Leave.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Apr '19 - 2:28pm

    Any policy on young people must start from the premise that they are treated abominably. They have no vote, are homeless, without the promise of a decent wage and are denied a secure future in our country. Starting from this position shows we care and will reverse the devastating cuts to their finances and quality of life.

  • What Peter Hirst said 😊

  • Andrew Tampion 4th Apr ’19 – 7:17am…………………….It seems to me that this kind of post with the implicit assumption that anyone who is anti European Union is by definition a bad person is another arrow in the bulleye of our party’s reputation for tolerance……………….

    “Arrow in the (bull)eye”…1066…Possibly the worst pun for a long time

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Apr '19 - 4:21pm

    Nick is well intentioned here yet does do as colleagues suggest, he reads far too much into that photo. Only the phrase in it is wrong, saying fighting, is divisive, but also, as an example or metaphor, is correct, the UK has often been fighting with the rest of the continent, it is the peace of the EU they do not seem to value!!!

    I am moved by Edis, can add my own experience. My father , when I was a boy, told us of his youth. It was as a member of the Mussolini Youth, all Italian young males of non military age, were forced to be in it. My father even saluted Il Duce in person as he inspected the line up!!! Irony is my father later helped the partisans! Never judge where a youngster is at, as key. Remember Clemenceau, do not rate anyone who is not a socialist by twenty, or still one, at thirty! I think it works in any direction, as young minds, like older ones, change!

  • Helen Dudden 6th Apr '19 - 9:04am

    I’m 71 years old this week, and use a Power Chair for my bone problems.
    I argue bus spaces for wheelchair users, and still continue the argument on adequate law for the failure in the EU.
    If only someone had listened! But then why should the EU be concerned by issues like non return of children within legal action and the high cost that is paid. £20, 000 is nothing in this situation.
    That’s the reason my family and anyone who knows voted leave!

  • Neil Sandison 9th Apr '19 - 11:27am

    The young are frequently attracted to the opposite of their parents and teachers .The rise in racism ,facism and nationalism and its sister movements .Is about shock and challenge to the status quo .
    We will not win them back by wagging our fingers but by demonstrating the benefits of Liberal Democracy and how it provides the freedoms for them to develop careers ,education and employment options that would not otherwise be open to them .
    old politicians have memories young people want challenges and exiciting goals for the future.

  • Indeed Neil. No wagging intended!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Andrew Tampion
    Peter Watson: "but the impression was left that the nett figure was still a big one with little explanation of the good things it bought us." That is because t...
  • Simon R
    @Nigel I don't see it as at all irrelevant if a person maintains a right to vote in another country. One person one vote is a fundamental principle of our democ...
  • Lee Thacker
    "Only the Scottish Liberal Democrats can beat the nationalists in huge swathes of Scotland." That is clearly not true....
  • Peter Watson
    @Chris Moore "the 350 MILLION figure was an effective piece of propaganda, but false." A failure to properly address this was one of the many disappointing asp...
  • Peter Watson
    @Peter Martin "the opinion polls were predicting a Remain win. It didn’t seem to add up at the time and so it proved." My hunch was that shy Brexiters were o...