Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Youth Vote

To turn away from the issues is usually a brave move to make. Today, I have decided to construct an essay on my assessment of youth voting in this country. It couldn't be further from the devastating news of the demise of Rover at the moment, but I feel that this is an issue that has not been considered properly by the media. So because this is totally untopical, I am not bothered about lack of comments to it. I simply feel that most of this needs to be said. Before I begin, I will declare an interest: I am a student. I will come back to the particular issue of student voting at another time.

The common view is that the youth is completely disengaged from politics. If you ask someone between 18-24 in the street who they are going to vote for, they are likely to tell you that they are not voting at all. We don't like politicians - they are slimy and untrustworthy. They are not interested in our issues. They prefer to pander to the elderly. It's a different world.

All of this is broadly true. If you're a manifesto junkie, you'll have noticed the perhaps undue prominence given to the "grey vote". Everyone wants to give the pensioners a little sweetener. Down here in the youth vote, we see the grey vote as being full of people more concerned about what they get off the government rather than what a government can do for society.

A harsh line to take, and not one I fully agree with, but it is a reasonable stereotype of the youth view. Even if it is true, it's hardly surprising given that we don't vote, so therefore why should the politicians ever take any notice of us? It's a vicious circle that we have started, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

But if you press the issue further, you notice something else. When we say we're not interested in politics, we don't actually mean it. Because the word "politics" comes with so much baggage, we assume that by "politics" you mean "party politics". We are not disengaged; we are genuinely interested in what is going on. We might even have an opinion on it! We just don't approve of this adult sport of clubbing together to shove leaflets through doors. Remember, most of us have not long finished being children. It's hardly surprising that we're not taking to extremely "adult" things like politics intuitively. We'll get round to party politics eventually. For now, we are more engaged by issues...

Issues are the key. We hear stories on the news. We hear friends talking about them. Even within the family events may happen that can cause a political interest. We listen, we agree, disagree or maybe offer an alternative perspective. All the while we are beginning to appreciate the concept of politics. It's hardly surprising that so few of us vote because we're not used to this process of political socialisation. It's a new thing in our lives. As new adults, we're only just getting used to adulthood and the concept of self-determination. There could be nothing worse to our new and growing senses of individuality than to club together in so called "parties" which are anything but.

It takes time before appreciation of majority rule comes in. More often than not, we find ourselves in the minority, and so we hate it as we're told what to do. But then we come to appreciate that sometimes we hold a majority view, and our imposition of it on a minority goes against our opposition to majority rule, but somehow it is still right. And so, an understanding of pragmatism comes in; that sometimes we need to trade off points of view. Otherwise nothing would get done. That's not to say I approve of the party whip system 100%, but I accept that parties are a necessary evil of the system. However, I do not think that the three party system adequately reflects the balance of opinions in my age group.

We do care about what's going on. We just don't think the party system reflects or represents us. We have views on issues, but they aren't consistent. We have ideologies, but most of us haven't realised it yet. Only given some time will be appreciate that our own experiences can be drawn upon to produce a reasonably coherent line of thought across many issues. Then we suddenly realise - mostly to our horror - that in fact we're not quite so different to the rest of the world after all.

Youth apathy is excuseable. We're still learning. The solution of it is to ensure that we're engaged in this kind of thing before 18, but this is not ideal. After all, when you're under 18, politics is the furthest thing away from what you really want to be doing. You're still a kid. You should be allowed to enjoy whatever childhood innocence you have left without having to worry too much about bigger pictures just yet.

Amongst all this, politicians should not be allowed to ignore the youth because they don't vote. It seems obvious, but today's youth is tomorrow's mature and educated (hopefully) electorate. Politicians cannot be left to just appeal to the older voters; they must have clear and consistent policies on youth that they can talk about to start the process of electoral engagement. Youth apathy has always been here, but it is getting worse as politicians permanently focus on electoral arithmetic and decide that it's not worth their effort trying to capture a disparate group when they can talk about the state pension and capture the attention of another disparate group - pensioners - but who nevertheless have one or two uniting factors that have much broader appeal.

Politicians have a role to play. They've got to communicate with us youth voters. The Conservatives have known this for some time, and their youth organisation is legendary. But the other parties must join the bandwagon, including all the non-mainstream ones who the youth often turn to first, such as the Greens or the Lib Dems.

So next time you hear someone moaning about the lack of a "youth vote", don't just tut and complain about them not being interested. We are. We want to get involved. We just don't want to play your game on your terms. We want to come together to "play the game" on terms we can all agree on. This may require some thought and effort. It may require you to offer an initial compromise to set the example of what politics should be about.

But never just blanket dismiss us as apathetic. We're just waiting for you to lead the way.


At 9:29 pm, April 15, 2005, Blogger Ken said...

Very good post. I agree with large amounts of it. I think the politicians tend to overstate the "interested in issues" thing, because it sounds nice, but you are right in saying young people ARE interested in politics. It's the seeming development of a political class which causes the problem, and the perception that votes mean little.

At 11:25 pm, April 15, 2005, Blogger Matt said...

Being 18, I definately feel unique in the fact that I am interested in politics, and even party politics. However, at the moment I am slipping in to the student cliché of fundamental socialism. I've even been thinking about leaving Labour since Brown is hardly any better than Blair. I wont get in to all my hopes and fears here. That's for my blog at some point. Anyway, It's important that party politics is brought in to the domain of the youth, but not in a way that patronises. Lowering the voting age to 16 would not help. The idea that the majority of politicans are slimy is one I would probably agree with. If politicians could return to the days of straight talking and principles, perhaps then will the youth become more interested in party politics

At 11:37 am, April 16, 2005, Blogger Eddie said...

Ken - thank you for your comments. I agree... I probably have overstated the issues thing, but it nevertheless plays an important role. We still need to educate and demonstrate the importance of the political process, and it's something that seems to go by the wayside of late.

I wonder if a PR voting system would help show that votes actually do contribute to something?

Matt - yeah... there are always exceptions. Like you I've been interested in party politics for some years now. Politics has to be made relevant, and I think your idealism of getting politicians to be straight talking and principled again would probably motivate young and old alike. It is a problem... we see politicans as being just too distant to our everyday lives.

In the face of rising executive dominance and the political class as Ken mentions, we've got to stand firm. We can't count on the legislature to be a check on the executive in this country. It means we have to do it. To change this, it's going to require a lot of effort.

At 1:42 am, April 17, 2005, Anonymous Arizent said...

I personally feel one of the many reasons that the youth are, on average, uninterested in politics, is because people in their late teens and early twenties have, as you say, only just finished adolescence and thus (on average) still predominately focused on personal issues.

The young have enough on their plate as it is usually. Trying to understand who they are becoming, their future career direction, their sexuality, first love, finding a flat or home, university life, social status and forming ideals… and all the other worries that are part of getting their foot on the first rung of that ladder- (or ‘downward slide’ if you’re the negative type, LOL) -we call adulthood.

Politics is such a complex and deep area, that unless you’re having to learn it while you’re a youth because your thinking of doing it professionally, as you are, its probably far too silly to expect your average youth to know enough about politics by the age of 18 in order to place an intelligent vote, or even care about it at all due to the aforementioned reasons in the previous paragraph.

If a person doesn’t study politics and his career choice is something unrelated to politics then its naturally going to take time to absorb the knowledge and gain an interest in politics as it will have to be done in a casual capacity as you mature, which is why politics is usually the domain 25 year olds and up, for non-politicians.

Most youths don’t have the time or interest to sit down and evaluate in depth and learn all the deep complexities of politics, which results in the parties not really bothering about them in return, which is a shame and also illustrates; that to them its just about winning votes and “getting in”, not what is honestly best for all of us.


Extending the problem out a bit though… I think the main thing that causes ‘disengagement’ from politics at ANY age is that; we are sick of all the scandals, sly attitudes and spin. Sick of this ritual “fog of bullshit” and spin that gets kicked up day after day. That annoying feeling that they honestly think that we are stupid enough to believe all their spin… and most of all the consistent failure for any party to truly deliver on what they promise.

Just out of interest I asked my dad to tell me in one short sentence why he has no deep interest in politics. His answer was: “The constant broken promises and failure to deliver from all the parties”

That’s what causes the apathy you talk of, people end up thinking “Why should I bother voting… they never deliver on what they say they will”

Well, my view probably seem very simpleton, as I’m no politics expert like your kind self, but I thought it might have been interesting to see the frivolous ideas of an apathetic ‘outsider’ to the system. I’m aware there probably will be holes in it!

Regards :-)

At 9:56 am, April 18, 2005, Blogger Eddie said...

A very interesting post. You've pretty much adequately summed up the situation with regard to apathy in this country. The lies and spin are beginning to take their toll. Whereas in 1997 it was a relatively new phenomena and people were mostly being sucked in with great ease, after eight years we've all become extremely jaded and cynical.

Your view is just as valid as the next person's whether interested in politics or not. It certainly isn't "frivolous". I find the great challenge is to talk to people and try to understand why they choose not to vote. I believe it is an active choice. If there are people who are lazy and don't vote because they can't be arsed, they are an extreme minority - maybe about 1-2%. Otherwise, everyone else has chosen not to vote for whatever reason. The challenge to politicians is finding out exactly why, and then doing something about it.

And that's the problem. Politicians are more interested in targeting those who they know for sure will vote - i.e. the "grey vote". It's a shame that this country is effectively being held to ransom by a minority of its population. We all have to work on changing this.


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