Were youth politics represented in this election? Yes, no, maybe; but perhaps the better question is – where were youth politics represented this election? For 3 politically active 20-somethings the election suddenly meant politics wasn’t solely our geek-interest but something our friends and peers were all engaging in together. Many in the older generation were quick to shun Russell Brand but he opened the doors to conversation in a far more accessible way than most. For us the youth politics of this election were found around dinner tables, in the pub, theatre, park and on social media.
Paying lip service to creating a better future for young people kept meaningful engagement at arm’s length. In the elite political debate (radio 4, the FT etc) youth were largely absent, like many other communities outside of the Westminster bubble. All the major parties outlined policies that fit our parents’ aspirations for us, rather than our own priorities. Buying a house is all very well, but for the majority of us who have struggled to find decently-paid jobs fairer renting schemes would have a far greater impact.
It’s not hard to understand why this might be a turn off for young people with vision and determination for a better future. And yes for some it was but for others it sparked a creative fight back. Bite the ballot did a huge voter registration push, a plethora of online questionnaires helped to explain what each party offered and vote swapping tools to use tactical voting to the best advantage became the talk of the town.
Taking stock of what happened- the here and now
The shock of the decisive election outcome was a rude awakening. The discrepancy between the polls and views trending on Twitter and personal Facebook feeds, compared with the votes cast showed us that despite such vibrant youth engagement it still wasn’t enough for youth concerns to break through.
The flagship policy announcements of the new government do not feature youth priorities and don’t tally with our vision for the future. A case in point is the promised EU referendum. For most of our friends and peers, Britain’s European membership isn’t even a debate. Over half of the supposedly disengaged 18-24 year olds are already certain they want to stay in the EUWe’ve grown up with all the benefits, and are left baffled over why anyone would contemplate going backwards.
But this complacency could put our future seriously at risk. While the Punch and Judy politics of the House of Parliament might make us sceptical to engaging with party politics, we can’t deny its effect on our lives. Our generation has suffered under government (vast unemployment, tuition fees, a crumbling NHS to name a few) how could we turn our back? Voting’s not for everyone, but like it or not politics is.
So what next?
This disjuncture between young people’s priorities and Westminster conversations raises a lot of questions. How can young people have political agency? Can we, as young people, continue to build up our own ways of political engagement and get recognition for it? Or do we have to join political parties and try the traditional route?
Put simply we plan to up our game. Our generation has grown up with a global recession and is already facing the impacts of climate change in our daily lives. We are a generation that needs to act fast if we are to secure the kind of future we want to live in. We can’t afford to waste time looking backwards like soul searching veteran politicians. For the record, we can’t even remember 1992. All we know is we have to get on with it; the challenges we face will only get worse.
Now the General Election is over, it’s only the beginning for youth politics. This election did show a 6% increase in young voter turnout but more importantly it highlighted the increasing number of ways young people are getting involved in politics. We need to keep this momentum and energy going if we want to breakthrough for our voices to be heard in government. These decisions affect us every day, we cannot give up.