By Alex Sambrook – Comment Editor
With the General Election almost upon us people up and down the country are wading through the swamp of political jargon and frustratingly ambiguous sound bites trying to figure out which party best deserves their vote. There is, however, a rather large section of society that has chosen to shun the ballot booths altogether, instead opting to moan about how they’re disillusioned by Westminster politics in between retweeting Russell Brand and taking selfies in Che Guevara T-shirts they got from the Topman sale. That section of society is, of course, young people.
I accept that not all of Britain’s youth can be accurately tarnished with this trendy, super left-wing brush. However, only 32% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2013 local elections – although one might be more inclined to accept that this low percentage might be more to do with young people’s apathy towards politics in general rather than a revolutionary desire to burn our political elite at the stake.
Despite what good old Russ might think, mobilising Britain’s youth to march on Westminster waving pitchforks might prove a bit more difficult than he first imagined. The idea of organised revolution appeals to young people about as much as any other organised activity – it quite simply just doesn’t.
This is why if Mr Brand wants to see real change in the way political processes occur in this country he should be encouraging young people to vote. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for direct action, but you’re a lot more likely to see a 19-year-old student popping down to a polling booth for five minutes than standing in a picket line freezing off their nether-regions.
The argument put forward most often when I speak to students and young people who aren’t planning to exercise their right to vote is that they feel neglected by politicians who spend so much time and money on hashing out policies for the middle-aged and elderly whilst implementing policies such as the rise in tuition fees and the abolition of EMA (education maintenance allowance) that actively disadvantage them.
As a student it’s easy to empathise with these grievances but if we continue to be vastly under represented at the ballot booth they will do nothing but continue.
The reason parties are so quick to neglect young people is because is quite simply doesn’t matter. If we’re not turning up to polling stations on 7th May then it doesn’t matter how many of us call the Prime Minister a wanker on Twitter (don’t lie, you’ve done it) because we’re not a threat to his job so he’s not going to waste time and resources bending over backwards to make us happy.
It is no surprise that so much policy is geared towards appeasing the elderly when 72% of those over the age of 65 managed to vote in the 2013 local elections. It would also come as no surprise then that if young people turned out in similar swathes in the next election we would see a lot more policy directed our way.
We are at the most interesting political crossroads in a number of years with parties like UKIP, no matter what you think of them, showing that it is possible for new parties and ideas to break into Britain’s political elite. As young people we have a social responsibility to make our presence known so that we do not get left behind as we move into a new era of politics. I’m not suggesting that simply turning up to vote is going to uproot hundreds of years of Westminster politics but even spoiling your ballot is a step in the right direction.