One of the participants from the Voice of a Generation tour, Ellie, 19, who we met in Cardiff, tells us why young people should use their vote – and why it’s politicians responsibility to encourage those who don’t.
Round about now, whoever you are, however old you are and wherever in Britain you’re situated, you’d deserve a medal for successfully managing to inhabit under a rock if you don’t feel you’re consistently exposed to General Election coverage. The News at Ten (and seemingly every other hour) is dominated by the build-up; live debates are getting all the more common; universities encourage voting by plastering the message in neon pink lettering; and even Twitter, which is usually more used by teenagers to discuss Kylie Jenner’s lips than Labour candidates, has been dragged into a political flurry of late.
Despite this, under half of 18-24-year-olds voted in the last General Election, and that statistic is unlikely to improve hugely next month.
From one angle, you could say it’s wrong to demonise young non-voters. Not everyone can have the same interests – so you may wonder why this should be different for young people politically. Not every teenager likes clubbing, and that’s fine. Not every young person aspires to work in business, and diversity is celebrated as Britain would be boring if everyone was identical. But I’ll explain why young people who don’t vote really should in this instance be following the majority.
Most people will remember the term ‘Suffragettes’ from History lessons. But do these non-voters truly realise the lengths they went to in order to gain women’s votes? Emmeline Pankhurst may be the best known, but there are multiple others who tied themselves to railings and so on to get their cause known. Emily Davison was jailed 9 times, force-fed 49 times and ultimately died by running onto the track of the King’s Horse, to bring to light political inequality at the hands of patriarchal oppression.
The Suffrage movement is relatively recent – only around 100 years ago. If the fact that in the last century, women were so desperate to create social change that they’d undergo horrific deaths and tortures doesn’t make modern young people use their right to vote, perhaps looking at 2015’s world around us will do. We’re lucky enough to live in a democracy – unlike Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote; unlike Lebanon, UAE and Brunei which have limited suffrage; and unlike Dominican Republic, where Armed Forces members are vote-less. Here, we’re handed these chances on a plate – yet some ignore this privilege. I think Russell Brand contributes to the problem of non-voters. He’s open about having never voted, and never planning to. If young people emulate him, politicians won’t go and ask them why, and they won’t create policies in their favour either.
Steffan Messenger, a BBC Wales journalist working with BBC Generation 2015, has launched a project called I Never Knew, breaking myths about the election, and answering questions which may restrict youth voting. He spoke to five teenagers at youth training provider The People Business. One of the group, Tony, said, ‘I’m starting college in September, studying plastering or tiling. I’m not going to vote, I think it’s all boring. Politicians are stuck up liars.’ Jordan added ‘I haven’t thought about voting’ while Ryan agrees – ‘I don’t understand politics, I’ll probably never vote.’ However, the final two, Curtis and Anthony, are both only not voting due to being 17.
I think if you have the chance to vote, don’t become voiceless on May 7th. But should we blame non-voters for making that conscious decision? Instead, I think their lack of action stems from confusion at the whole system, having never been taught about politics.
There’s a clear lack of MPs willing to go the ‘extra mile’ – which should ideally just be standard practice – and speak to young people. Although I tremendously appreciate living in a democracy, I can’t help wishing we lived in a society where governmental issues were normalised from an early age. This would stop confusion, disillusionment and consequently lack of interest in how our country is run. I think MPs should tell school-pupils about what their job entails. Of course Maths is crucial, but a knowledge in how politics, from your local council to Westminster is run, seems ultimately more useful than Pythagoras’ theorem. If politicians were seen as normal people who at essence are trying to improve society, rather than intimidating men in suits who don’t understand real life, I think almost every young person would have no excuse not to vote.
British Future; Voice of a Generation; BBC Generation and youth voting generally becoming more normalised in youth culture, asserts the message that many young people ARE interested in having a say in how their futures unravel. But I believe this desperately needs to be the situation for absolutely everyone. And currently, it’s a Catch 22 situation, as politicians rarely address young people, so this demographic don’t all vote for them, then grow in frustration thinking politicians don’t help them at all. So in summary, I believe an understanding of Suffragettes and modern oppressed nations; directly witnessing policies in action, specifically affecting young non-voters’ areas; and understanding politicians from early ages, are what this country craves for Britain to be home to a much bigger percentage of 18-24-year-old voters.
Ellie Philpotts was a participant in the Cardiff leg of British Future and the Daily Mirror’s Voice of a Generation tour, which looked at what matters to young voters in the run up to the 2015 General Election.