13 March 2015

“It’s like a big game really”

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On the road again the Voice of a Generation tour was in Brighton. Famous for its pier, pebble beach, liberal outlook, and since 2010 being the seat of the only Green MP in parliament. We were lucky enough to be able to speak with two different groups of young people, at a YMCA housing project and at the City College.

Elson (left) and Yazmyn (2nd right) - YMCA Brighton
Elson (left) and Yazmyn (2nd right) – YMCA Brighton

So why did the young people of Brighton think that there is such a disconnect between themselves and the current political system, highlighted by such low voter turnout amongst the 18-24s? One notion that was raised in both groups related to the perceived insincerity of politicians, particularly in the run-up to the election in May. As Josh (18) said: “at the moment, parties are offering policies as pre-election mood music”. Will from the YMCA echoed a similar sentiment, saying that “The parties are only paying attention now to get votes before the election.” “They go all over the country, do TV debates, do publicity…it’s like a big game really.”

We came across a particularly interesting divide in young people’s opinions on UKIP. On the one hand we witnessed the negativity towards the party that opinion polls nationwide have found among the younger sections of the electorate. Will (20) isn’t sure who to vote for, and doesn’t particularly agree with any one of the main parties. However, he is planning on voting for ‘someone that isn’t UKIP’ as he doesn’t want to see them gain any power in the General Election.

On the other hand we also heard from some first-time voters for whom UKIP represented real change in a political system that they had no faith in. They were happy to discuss immigration as a topic they felt needed addressing in the run-up to the election, highlighting the lack of fairness in the immigration system as a major concern.

In the wake of recent polls putting Green Party support ahead of the Liberal Democrats, one might expect young people in the Greens’ only constituency be well on board with the Green Party message. Yet it was not something that the groups of young people we spoke to particularly knew or cared about.

The students at Brighton and Hove City College were positive about Green Party policies, and, as we have seen in several discussions, the socially focussed and environmentally conscious propositions struck a chord with young voters. Concerns were raised over the ability of the party to actually put any of them into practice though, and Green Party candidate for Brighton Kemptown Davy Jones was inevitably drawn into a discussion defending Natalie Bennett’s disastrous LBC interview under pressure from one student asking “how can you expect us to trust you?”

Other more specific topics were discussed in-depth that had not come up before – the war on drugs, transparency of justice, and national security were all on the cards as issues that participants in our groups were concerned about.

The groups were mixed, with some people considering themselves relatively well informed and engaged with politics, and others who felt they did not know anything about it. As per usual, even those who declared themselves uninterested had a lot to say about the issues that effected them day to day. Connecting this to politics in the UK was something that most people wanted to see more of.

One idea that the groups felt would help with this was the introduction of more political education in schools, as Yazmyn said: “I think they should teach politics in actual classrooms; it’s hard because you get to a certain age, have to pick what you want to do with your life…so they should be teaching you about politics before all that.”

Not knowing how to vote or about the registration process was also raised as an important reason our participants struggled to engage with politics, and Yazmyn, William an Elson all felt that celebrities would be in a good position to help attract young people to politics, and advertise what they needed to do to register to vote.

Although living, studying and working in the only Green Party held constituency in the country, for the young people of Brighton it is the state of politics as a whole that they are disenchanted with – much like everywhere else we have met with first-time voters – and one Green MP hasn’t been enough to convince them that meaningful change can happen just yet.

Joe Cryer, 23, is research and communications assistant at British Future and is accompanying Daily Mirror reporter Helen Whitehouse on the Voice of a Generation tour 

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