All change

Teenagers, students and graduates mostly favoured Labour over the Tories in 2017 - but not all did. Here four young people explain why they switched sides.

Megan

When 18-year-old Megan McGowan told her family she was a Conservative, it was much harder than when she came out as bisexual.

Megan’s parents had been completely fine with her sexual orientation. Her mother, Linda, sent her a text: “Your father and I would never judge you, or anything you do. Unless you become a Tory or a mass murderer. Well, even then we probably wouldn't judge you.”

A year later, when she broke the news of her political sympathies to Linda, Megan remembered that "probably".

The two of them were sitting in the front room of their council house in Donnington, Shropshire, eating pasta for dinner. “Mum, I think I'm a Tory,” Megan said.

Linda, 57, a home care assistant, tried to process this. Her own father had never forgiven her for failing to turn out to vote in the 1979 general election, the first year she was eligible. He had lost his job under a Tory government when the local steelworks closed, and always held Linda personally responsible for the rise of Margaret Thatcher.

Linda had stayed true to Labour ever since, and so had her husband Kevin, 63, an engineer.

“Oh, your dad’s not going to be happy at all,” she told Megan. “He’s going to be very annoyed.”

Growing up, Megan had always assumed she was Labour, because her parents were Labour. The family would all watch Have I Got News For You together, and afterwards Linda and Kevin would tell her Labour were the good guys, while the Tories only cared about the rich.

Before the 2015 general election, Megan joined the Labour Party. She was 16 and it hadn’t occurred to her that she might support any other. She stayed up to watch Ed Miliband’s party crash to defeat even though she had a GCSE physics exam the next day.

In the wake of Labour’s loss, though, Megan started to re-think her allegiances. She went to watch a party leadership hustings in Birmingham where Jeremy Corbyn spoke. She wasn’t impressed.

I thought, yes, he's a nice man. But I could never vote for him, and if he was leader he would be a terrible one.”

When she shared this opinion on Twitter, Megan found herself being trolled. “It was, you know, get out of my party, Tory scum, Red Tory, you're a traitor, eff off and join the Tories.”

Once the leadership results were declared, Megan thought: “I can’t do this any more.” The Labour Party didn’t feel like a welcoming place, so she quit.

She started reading Thatcher’s autobiography and liked what she discovered. The former prime minister’s emphasis on thrift reminded Megan of the values she had been brought up with.

Coming from a working-class background we were taught very early on that money does not grow on trees and you need to really watch your bank account and you need to keep an eye on your budgets.”

It was the EU referendum that finally brought home to Megan that she was a Tory. She had supported Remain, and found herself feeling sorry to see David Cameron resign and George Osborne face the sack. Their brand of socially liberal conservatism, she now realised, echoed her own, and she feared it was now at risk. “That made me think: ‘Well, there's something to defend here, isn't there? I might as well as grit my teeth and say: Yeah, I'm a Conservative.’”

This put Megan out of step with her age group. Among 18 and 19-year-olds, YouGov found Labour had a 47-point lead over the Tories. On the other hand, the same study found the Conservatives performed best among C2, or skilled working-class voters, of which there are many in Donnington.

Days later, Megan broke the news to her mum. But she wasn’t ready to tell her dad.

Instead, she started dropping hints.

She’d sit reading her Thatcher book and make approving comments about it. Or Prime Minister’s Questions would come on television, and she’d say she agreed with what Theresa May had just said.

Eventually, the penny dropped.

My dad is a reasonable man, and so he respected it.”

Kevin knew she hadn’t taken the decision lightly, and he was proud that she knew her own mind. “If that’s who she is that’s who she is and that that's fine by me,” he said.

Linda still isn’t “overly impressed”, according to Megan.

The household has settled on a kind of detente. Unlike other homes on the estate, theirs had no election poster in the window.

“We just don't talk about it, do we?” says Linda. “I mean, if something like Question Time is on, we sort of have - not disagreements. But I start saying something, and Megan just goes…” She raises her finger to her lips.

“I do not do that,” says Megan.

“You do!” says Linda. “You put your finger up and you tell me: ‘Shhh,’ like that.”

“If someone’s talking across Question Time I will sort of gesture and say: ‘Shh, please,’” Megan admits. “I’d like to listen to what’s being said.’”

Matteo

Matteo Bergamini spent two days looking at his postal ballot before filling it in. Once the 25-year-old from Harrow, north London, wouldn't have been in any doubt - he’d been a Liberal Democrat, and an active one at that.

But now he was torn between his old party and Labour. “I was sitting there looking at the two boxes, thinking about it,” he says.

At the age of 16, Matteo had joined the Lib Dems. He’d liked their socially liberal policies and their pledge to scrap tuition fees. Above all, he liked the fact they looked different from the other parties. “Labour and the Conservatives I saw as very similar,” he says. After a decade in government, the former in particular looked tired and shop-worn. “It was the sort of New Labour leftovers, essentially.”

He canvassed and leafleted for the Lib Dems in the run-up to the 2010 election. Unlike some others in the party, he wasn’t troubled at first when the coalition was announced – they were in power now, after all.

But then the party broke its pledge not to vote for any rise in tuition fees. The policy affected Matteo directly – he was about to start a politics degree at Brunel University, and cancelled his plan for a gap year to avoid the extra expense.

His faith in the Lib Dems was shattered, too.

It was quite a shock for me. I thought: ‘Is this what politics is? Why am I getting involved with this?’”

Gradually he stepped back from his involvement in the party, then cancelled his membership altogether.

But in 2015 he voted Lib Dem again, albeit without a great deal of enthusiasm. They were the “best of a bad bunch”, he thought.

By now, Matteo had left university, and life in the real world was proving tough. He wanted to buy a flat, but it dawned on him that astronomical property prices meant it would never happen. His friends had insecure jobs on zero-hours contracts. He’d set up his own business, and it angered him that companies like Google weren’t paying their fair share of tax while start-ups like his own were paying the full rate.

“I started to realise how the next generation are royally screwed. I started to realise how much easier the previous generation had it.”

Since the election, pundits have focused on the role of students in pushing up the Labour vote. But according to Prof Ben Lauderdale of the London School of Economics, 25-to-44-year-old voters like Matteo made a bigger difference.

Matteo hadn’t taken much notice of Jeremy Corbyn when he was elected Labour leader:

Corbyn looked like a bumbling idiot from the way the media were portraying him.”

But then he went to see Corbyn speak for himself, and he was impressed with what he heard. “It wasn't the Ed Miliband, Tony Blair Labour,” he says. “I think Jeremy Corbyn's Labour recognises there's a big issue with housing. They realise that there's a small group that makes huge profits and pay very little into society.”

As the 2017 election campaign wore on, Corbyn no longer looked like a liability to Labour and Theresa May no longer appeared strong and stable. “It was like they flipped,” says Matteo. He had a decision to make.

Matteo’s pen hovered over the ballot paper. Something needed to be done for his generation, he thought, something radical and urgent. And then put a cross next to the Labour candidate’s name.

Tomiwa

In her Edinburgh flat, Tomiwa Folorunso watched the election results with a mixture of emotions.

Tomiwa was a committed Labour supporter. She had overcome her misgivings about Jeremy Corbyn and was overjoyed the party had bucked predictions of electoral collapse.

But she hadn’t voted Labour.

Tomiwa, 22, had just finished a history degree at Edinburgh University. She had grown up in a scholarly family - her parents had moved to Scotland from Nigeria so her father could study for his PhD.

My dad, like other academics, tended to be left-wing or socialist in his thinking.”

Her support for Labour was instinctive. Labour were against the Tories, and the Tories were elitists who didn’t care about the poor. There was no way she could ever support them.

In the 2014 independence referendum she had voted No, seeing independence as a leap into the unknown. But unlike many No voters, she saw the referendum as a positive experience. “It definitely opened a debate and a conversation about Scottish politics in general,” she says. “I think that was a good thing.”

The following year’s general election saw a surge of support for the Scottish National Party (SNP). Many former Labour voters who thought independence offered a chance to end Conservative rule from Westminster, switched sides.

But Tomiwa wasn’t among them.

It made me deeply sad to see all these left-wing people deserting the Labour party.”

She disagreed with the SNP on independence and was critical of its record running Scotland’s education system. Tomiwa admired Ed Miliband, disliked what she saw as his unfair treatment by the media, and on that occasion cast her ballot for Labour.

She had reservations about the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, though. “I was like: ‘It's great we have this leader and I like a lot of his policies and I like the fact he sticks to his guns - but people are not going to vote for him.’”

But after Theresa May called her snap election, and the polls started shifting in Corbyn’s favour, Tomiwa was overjoyed at the possibility that “someone that left-wing could win in this country”.

Many other graduates appear to have been thinking the same thing. According to YouGov, Labour beat the Conservatives among those with a university degree by 49% to 32%.

Tomiwa had moved her electoral registration to her student flat near Edinburgh’s Meadows, just south of the university campus. She assumed she lived in Edinburgh South - at the time the only Labour seat in Scotland - and looked forward to voting for her preferred party.

But then she realised she was wrong – she lived in Edinburgh East, which was held by the SNP. The newspapers were reporting a surge in support for the Scottish Conservatives, and Tomiwa feared voting Labour here would let the Tories in. Whatever her disagreements with the SNP, they were nothing compared to her dislike of the Conservatives.

On 8 June, she put a cross next to the name of the SNP candidate. “It was really weird,” she says. That night it turned out that the swing to the Tories in Edinburgh East was smaller than Tomiwa had feared, and Labour remained in second place after the SNP.

“I felt bad switching my allegiance, but I wanted my vote to matter," she says. "If a Tory had got in I would have felt a lot worse.”

Mark

Mark Francos never imagined he'd end up voting Tory.

In Washington, just outside Sunderland, there were two main strands of opinion, he remembers: “Labour till we die, or apathy.” Everyone said the Tories had closed down the shipyards and the coal mines. Plus, thought Mark, George Osborne looked like he was enjoying the cuts too much.

Labour, the establishment in the North East, didn’t appear any more attractive. But UKIP – UKIP were a different matter.

Mark had always been suspicious of the European Union. His grandfather was a Latvian refugee who had fled his homeland when it was annexed by the Soviet Union. “He was always like: ‘Protect your own country and never give in to something bigger,’ because he’d seen his country being absorbed in something bigger without its choice.”

At Northumbria University, Mark made friends from around the world, and he thought it was unfair that someone from the EU could enter the UK freely and work, while someone from India couldn’t. “They had to jump through so many different hoops compared with someone from Europe,” he says. “I didn't see how that was right.”

Mark started watching videos on YouTube about the evils of the EU. The Tories, he thought, were “very wishy-washy” on Europe. Soon he was a UKIP member.

UKIP were more to the right on some issues and more to the left on others, certain economic issues.”

This suited Mark. He wanted out of the EU but he thought the railways should be nationalised. He’d watched his mum die of cancer when he was 16, and thought UKIP would spend more on the NHS.

There were plenty of other UKIP voters in Washington, but lots who strongly disliked the party, too. When he shared pro-UKIP stories on Facebook, people would call him a Nazi.

This didn’t put him off. What did, however, were his fellow UKIP members. “The big issue, it always has been, it always will be, is the people,” he says.

You’d have some barmy, barmy person somewhere who’d just say the most ridiculous thing - some ridiculously racist thing or something homophobic, 'Gay people are responsible for flooding,' or something like that - and it would get rid of any legitimacy the party would have.”

And then Brexit actually happened. “It was all well and good being opposed to the EU beforehand,” says Mark. “But we also needed to work out what was next.” The court challenges to Brexit concentrated his mind. Labour looked too divided on the issue, and anyway he didn’t like Jeremy Corbyn’s record on Northern Ireland.

So he was left with the Tories.

“They’re not perfect. But I think if you’re agreeing entirely with a party, I think there’s something wrong with you. They’re saying the right things and at least they want to get along with it.”

BBC Newsnight’s Chris Cook has observed that the Conservatives gained on Labour in seats where UKIP did well in 2015 and stood again in 2017. This is what happened in Mark's constituency of Washington and Sunderland West.

A few days before the election, as Mark sat on a bench in Sunderland’s Mowbray Park, across the pond from the Winter Gardens, he considered the abuse he might get for voting Tory. It couldn’t be worse than the venom he experienced as a UKIP member, he thought.

“That’s probably made it possible for people to now change to the Conservative Party," he says. "It's kind of like a gateway. It's now made it actually almost acceptable to vote that way.”