CANTERBURY, England (Reuters) - In an election full of nasty shocks for Britain’s governing Conservative Party, none was more surprising than its first defeat in Canterbury since the constituency was created in 1918.
But the story behind the swing to the opposition Labour Party in this quiet corner of England, forever associated with The Canterbury Tales of Middle Ages poet Geoffrey Chaucer, helps explain why the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority.
Young voters in the historic cathedral and university city appear, like elsewhere, to have taken revenge on Prime Minister Theresa May over what they see as her pursuit of a hard Brexit — a clean break from the European Union’s single market.
Many turned in frustration in Thursday’s election to the opposition Labour Party which, led by veteran leftist Jeremy Corbyn, favours a “softer” Brexit and has promised an end to austerity and university tuition fees.
Conservative Julian Brazier lost the seat he had held for three decades to Labour’s Rosie Duffield — by 187 votes. He had won the previous election by a huge margin, with 42.9 percent of votes to Labour’s 24.5 percent.
“Everyone who voted Labour did an excellent job. The youth vote was incredible. I’m ecstatic,” said 19-year-old Toby French, who is studying politics and international relations at the University of Kent, which has a Canterbury campus.
He had initially planned to vote Conservative but said he was put off by May’s Brexit plans, what he saw as the party’s arrogance and a feeling he was being taken for granted.
“I voted with my heart and my head. I didn’t feel Theresa May and the local Conservative representative for Canterbury were up to the job. They were outdated. Brexit negotiations will suffer with a Conservative government,” French said.
Some youths may also have taken revenge on their parents and grandparents for supporting Brexit — support for leaving the EU was much higher among older generations in the referendum a year ago on whether Britain should leave the EU.
Data on how the different age groups voted and turnout among each generation is not yet available for Thursday’s election, but a Labour source said the party’s polling “suggested that young people were coming out in significantly larger numbers”.
Malia Bouattia, president of the National Union of Students, said early reports suggested 72 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds had voted.
“Without a doubt, this 2017 General Election will ... be recalled as the event that captured the imagination of a new generation of young people who announced their return to the electoral stage in a way not seen in decades,” said Professor Matt Henn, an expert in young people and politics at Nottingham Trent University.
“As the country moves into the next Brexit phase in 10 days’ time, any new government will need to ensure that they keep a watchful eye on a new youth voting block which has flexed its muscles and who have seen that their participation in elections can make a real difference.”
There was also a big swing in the northern London constituency, or voting district, of Southgate where Labour’s Bambos Charalambous won 24,989 votes to oust Conservative David Burrowes by 4,355 votes.
The Labour vote was up nearly 13 percent on the previous election in 2015 and the Conservative vote was down 7 percent.
In the EU referendum, voters in Southgate had voted strongly to stay in the EU, with 62 percent backing remain and 38 percent leave though Burrowes had campaigned to leave.
“I think after Brexit I was so angry with what I saw as the older generation selling us out. My generation are going to have to deal with the consequences, not them,” said Marcus Hawley, a 21-year-old student who voted for Labour.
“I’m happy that May hasn’t got the result she needed, hopefully this will stop her going along with a hard Brexit which will ruin this country. When I see older people voting for the Tories (Conservatives) or Brexit I see completely different values. They want to send this country back 50 years but I want us to go forward into the future not backwards.”
Some young voters said Labour had campaigned better than the Conservatives on social media. May’s lack of popularity among young people was also highlighted by the popularity of a song which shot up the pop charts labelling May a liar.
Hitting out at government spending cuts, “Liar Liar GE2017” by Captain SKA stitched together samples of May’s speeches with a chorus of “She’s a liar liar, no you can’t trust her”.
“We all know politicians like telling lies / Big ones, little ones, porky pies / Saying they’re strong and stable, won’t disguise / We’re still being taken for a ride,” reads one verse.
The BBC refused to play the song because it violates their editorial guidelines and commitment to impartiality.
Robin Gillham reported from Southgate, England, Writing by Michael Holden, Editing by Timothy Heritage