As this years election day approaches the debate surrounding who will be in power after 7th May is one which is impossible to avoid. An equally important question however, is how much will young voters affect the outcome? To answer this question we should consider whether our political system is achieving enough for young people. For political parties it is easy to guarantee safe votes by targeting traditional voters near an election by for example, protecting the winter fuel allowance and other benefits.
Alternatively, you can argue that one of the most important issues that is facing young people, in the form of zero hour contracts, have been frequently mentioned by both Labour and Plaid Cymru in the run up to the Election. Yet, as the Conservatives continue to announce falls in overall unemployment there seems to be no new radical approach from them, which will help those young people out of work, find work. This is concerning, when according to some figures the gap between youth unemployment and that of the general UK population stands at 14.4% and 5.7%, respectively.
It is also possible to argue that if young people want to have a stake in this country’s political system they must vote. Analysing statistics from Ipsos Mori that less than half (44 per cent) of 18-24 year olds voted (compared to more than 73 per cent of over 55s) in the 2011 election this may appear a convincing argument. Take a closer look, however, and you will find that many young people, this writer included, are deeply interested in politics. What they are not interested in are the hollow promises, infighting, hypocrisy and stagnation which, frankly, turns us all off. A 2012 study by Nottingham Trent University for example found that nearly two-thirds of 18-year olds claim an interest in politics, yet say they are “turned off” by politics and political parties. Just turn to Twitter and you’ll find debates aplenty, often young-person led.
To illustrate this, I will recall one memory that will always stay with me; a clip of an exchange involving Ed Milliband that was played on the newest series of Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe. Asked by a young member of the audience; “outside of politics, what experience do you have, what life experience do you have to associate and indicate that you should be the one to represent the people of Britain?”, it seemed the Labour leader couldn’t provide a coherent answer. The best answer he could provide was “Well, I’ve done a number of things which I think, I hope, are relevant to this, so I was obviously an economic adviser in the Treasury, and I think that’s important”. That is great Ed, but that has no relation to ordinary people’s lives, young or old.
To me his answer says a lot; if more young people are to be truly engaged in our political and electoral system, politicians have to make more effort to genuinely listen, be accessible and talk to young people in a language they can understand. They need to make more effort to fix a system which many young people understandably see as broken.