The Lost Generation | Sarah Stook
In the 2017 General Election, only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted. That number went down to a rather low 36% in the 2016 European Union referendum.
It’s pretty clear from this that the youth are fairly apathetic when it comes to politics, at least when it comes to voting. The UK isn’t alone in this. During his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama made it his mission to appeal to young and first time voters, but was initially laughed at ‘the young don’t vote.’ He somehow managed to gain some traction, but that was more to do with Obama’s charm than the energy of the young. In the 2014 US midterm elections, a palsy 16% of 18-24 year olds voted. The general population wasn’t much higher at 39%, but it was clear that the youth didn’t really flock to the ballot boxes. This translated as just one of the reasons that helped the Republicans gain their largest majority in a century, as they are not a party beloved by the youth.
So why is this political generation so lost?
It’s extremely easy to tell angry young people to either vote or quit complaining. Judging by the numbers above, it’s plain to see young adults often don’t care for crossing a ballot box. For those angry about Brexit, we can shoot back that only 36% of 18-24 year olds voted in a demographic that was three quarters remain. The thing is, it’s easy to say it but it will not necessarily lead to a solution. Only 22 countries in the world require EVERYONE to vote, the most notable being Australia.
We could make voting mandatory, but that would not necessarily make people more informed. They are no more likely to start reading up on key issues just because they must get to the voting booth (the so called ‘donkey effect’), for they will simply pick a party based on legal obligation or just complete randomness. The youth will still vote, but they won’t necessarily become political junkies overnight or even at all.
So, we need to factor in the issues that are affecting young people.
No young voter is the same as another, but similar issues will face most- they want a decent job, a safe home, good income and fair public services. Though the government keeps touting decreases in unemployment as part of their lousy attempt to get us to vote Conservative, that doesn’t necessarily translate as a vote winner. Post-industrial towns still suffer a decline. One in four of us will suffer with mental illness, which especially equates to the youth who will be more open about it. Housing is becoming harder to reach as we become a nation of renters with high housing prices and limited resources. The job market is saturated, as not every degree will translate into success. The government is delighting in banning fun things and enacting draconian porn laws that will anger many young people. In short, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to vote Conservative or vote at all.
There is no magic wand to fix everyone’s problems, but we can look at each issue and not make everything about Brexit (as impossible as that may seem).
In terms of post-industrial decline, we need to bring new jobs into areas where their way of life was destroyed along with their industry. As we decrease in manufacturing and turn into a service sector economy, we must equip our workers with both the skills and opportunity to become part of that. Unfortunately, many declining towns seem to be in the scariest place a politican can go- the North of England. More houses are built in London than in the Northern Powerhouse combined and those in the capital get around £412 more per head spent on transportation. Politicians will venture to the north for photo opportunities, but nothing seems to be done. Take Grimsby for example, once a proud and prosperous fishing port that is now one of the most deprived areas of the country. Whilst it is getting renewed hope in a promising regeneration scheme, things are still looking downward- for example, the promised cinema and restaurant complex in the town centre isn’t going to happen. We’ve had years of Labour and Conservative governments both locally and nationally (though we have not seen a non-Labour MP since 1945). Crime is a way of life; the town is littered with empty shops and the council is about as much use as a waterproof teabag. Theresa May visited to do her big EU speech, but left as soon as she came (I imagine she didn’t want to awkwardly converse with any fish smelling locals).
Mental health facilities are a given. The government pushes higher figures, but those who are still waiting six months for their initial appointment with a counsellor aren’t seeing that. Mental health first aid should be as mandatory in workplaces as physical first aid is, schools should be better equipped and there should be much shorter waiting times.
Housing- that’s simple- BUILD MORE OF IT. Deregulate the planning industry, push for it in the apparently decrepit north and build on the Brownfield. Houses in the UK are the smallest in Europe, so also ensure we’re not just building box sized apartments that cost the earth. Young people don’t want to rent forever or live with their parents; they want an affordable home that they can easily get a deposit and mortgage for. Home ownership is one thing that is a sign of being a grown up, of being your own person. People will want to live alone, with partners or even with children- make sure there is variation of types as well as place.
Government should also do more to promote apprenticeships and other post-16/18 jobs. Tony Blair’s 50% aim has made a degree something that is to be expected and not to strive for. Whilst some enter industries easily, such as those with degrees in medicine or engineering, many find tha their degree does not necessarily help them in the market and they will not go into their chosen fields. Every student should have the opportunity to learn skills on the job, earn money immediately and be in a secure job environment. On top of that, we MUST reform maintenance loans at university. It’s all well and good talking about tuition fees, but many students also struggle to live on the money provided as part of their loan. For some, they cannot afford their housing, as the state assumes parents will and can pay for it. That is essential in securing the finances of those in university, as they will be more worried about that than tuition.
The porn law will not be too much of a pull for many, as that mainly angers the civil libertarians amongst us. Still, it shows that the government clearly does not have any idea how the internet works or what young people think. The data from payment could easily be leaked, it will push the industry underground and take people towards the dark web, where the porn is shockingly disgusting. It is understandable that pornography is a controversial subject, producing such strange bedfellows as the Christian right and radical feminists, but these restrictions will not help anyone.
Again, these aren’t magic wands, but they are much better vote winners than terrible CCHQ graphics. We have a ticking time bomb of a generation that has lost its passion for politics- that is something that we must change, or else we have failed the young.
We close with a pretty excellent Matt Hancock quote: ‘Voting Conservative used to be something people thought about when you got your first pay check. Now it’s something you think about when you get your first winter fuel allowance.’ That quote sums up why we must change.