13 February 2014

Your first vote – use it or lose out

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With the next general election approaching and my generation one by one becoming eligible to vote, it is important that the political awareness, or lack thereof, of my peers and myself is questioned. Our immediate futures will be drastically affected by the running of our government, from funding cuts and youth unemployment to considerable changes in the educational sector, which will play havoc with our learning, qualifications and, of course, our fees. It is therefore crucial that we make the most of the democratic rights that we are given, argues 17-year-old Matilda Neill.

Polling station. Photo: Drift Words
Polling station. Photo: Drift Words

My friends are mixed – some are highly engaged and will vote, others less so – which reflects a general trend; statistics from 2010 show that only 44% of voters aged 18-24 actually took part in the election, compared to 76% of those over 65. It is almost predictable then that the elected parties won’t, by any means, hold the younger generation to high esteem. If my age group want our needs recognised and acted upon, we need to show that we care. An elected party, if their vote comes in greater part from young people, will be more likely to adhere to their wants and wishes, as they represent a larger proportion of their support.

The apparent apathy amongst young people towards politics must stem from somewhere, and I don’t believe this can be summed up by the shameful title ‘pure laziness’. It is very easy for us to access the latest news concerning government and politics, with devices in our pockets that can immediately alert us when a new headline is broadcast, keeping us up to date on current affairs. But we are not forced to take that initial interest, nor is it compulsory for us to be politically engaged ourselves.

On top of this, the umbrella term ‘politics’ often alienates people with its very mention. There is a certain misconception that MPs and government representatives are operating on an intangible level, with knowledge and understanding that exceeds that of the common man, in part provoked by their debates being full of incomprehensible jargon and statistics. Excluded from the parliamentary bubble, politics appears inaccessible to us.

So is the solution to make voting compulsory, particularly for first time voters? Will that generate interest and secure votes? Recent debates have considered lowering the voting age as a way of capturing the younger generation, the main idea being that the earlier we are treated like citizens of the nation, the earlier we will start acting like them. This change would show an increased faith in the ability of today’s youth to make well-informed decisions and also show that their opinions are irreplaceable in the running of our country too, a boost in confidence I feel is more than necessary. Scotland’s up and coming referendum will be based on votes made by members of the country aged 16 and above. The decision to do this initiated many debates in itself, with those opposed to it suggesting that 16 is too young to fully understand the complexity of the decision and its consequences. I would strongly argue that respect and responsibility come hand in hand. The younger we are when given the vote the more our knowledge of and interest in government will be increased.

Perhaps the fundamental reason for the decrease in young people voting is that we don’t know who to vote for. I don’t mean by this that we are unaware of how the system works or are in the dark about the policies of the different parties. I mean that despite knowing these things, we still struggle to find a party that we really believe in. It is difficult to feel that our vote will really be of huge significance when we don’t feel passionate about what we are voting for. The older generations, who have been voting for a long time and have probably already established their own political outlook and loyalty to a party, will struggle less with this immense decision, though to be sure this problem is not limited to young voters.

Ultimately we need to utilise the power that we are given through the vote. If we truly care about our future in this country, we must do what we can about it, use our vote to make our own decisions and not let it be taken from us due to passivity.

Want to be heard more? British Future, in partnership with the Daily Mirror, is launching the ‘Voice of a Generation’ – a year-long, fully-paid internship with the paper for one 17-21 year old. The successful candidate will start work a year out from the 2015 general election and spend the next year reporting on the issues that matter to first time voters. Details of how to apply can be found at the above link, but hurry – applications close Friday 14th February.

Next Generation blogger Matilta Neill, 17, has worked on the Young People’s Charter for Arts and Culture, a Legacy Trust UK programme for the north-east. 


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