That 74% of 18-24 year olds voted against Brexit is a statistic touted so freely that it is almost proverbial, yet still young people are told the result must be accepted as an inevitability of the democratic process. Farage himself claimed before the referendum that a 52:48 result would be ‘unfinished business’, but as it currently stands young people are trapped, and can only watch helplessly as their country and livelihoods roll over a cliff edge. There was confusion when, having voted overwhelmingly to remain, YouGov estimated that 85% of the demographic most opposed to Brexit voted for parties promising to deliver it in the most recent election. But this is instead a marker of how infuriating the result of the referendum is for so many young people.
For many young voters this election Brexit simply wasn’t the biggest issue, with Euroscepticism dramatically less likely to occur amongst generations where a Britain in the EU was all they had ever known. The right to travel to any member state and be afforded the same treatment as a native was, along with so many other privileges, omnipresent in their lives. This is a generation to whom being British and European is as natural a duality as being Bristolian and English is to their parents. The result has, for the foreseeable future, ripped away rights and identities from those most confused by anyone’s desire to risk them.
The General Election result is juxtaposed to that of the referendum because domestic policy was most important: tuition fees, the NHS and nationalisation were the most pressing issues. An attempt to forge a way out of the mire young people were born into was at the forefront of their minds, and now so many are left feeling they will work twice as hard for half as much in a future they never even voted for.
This is a generation raised in the shadow of the worst financial crisis in living memory, where those too young to appreciate the significance of events as they unfolded have surely now realised their importance. Many households are yet to recover from that lurch, and yet young people are asked to quietly stand by as so much preventable uncertainty seeps into the world they are desperately trying to rebuild.
The 2014 Scottish Referendum set a precedent for the voting rights of 16 year olds. When this demographic was justifiably angered at being denied a say in the EU vote, their fury was only surpassed by a result they could have prevented. The tragic irony of watching Cameron’s humiliating resignation was knowing that, had he not ignored them, he may well have stayed in his job. All this has created the common feeling that Cameron gambled with their futures and lost for the sake of the internal politics of a party most of them didn’t vote for.
Yet young people, as much as they blame the unholy Trinity of Johnson, Farage and Gove, must share the blame. The older a person, the more likely they voted leave, but the younger a person, the more likely they were at home. It is embarrassing to hear people make the sinister call to disenfranchise the elderly knowing they never used their own vote. One of the few positive things to be taken from this whole sorry affair is that it seems to have been the shock needed to dramatically increase youth turnout; if nothing else, that lesson has been learned.
Image: David Holt