Millennials are often given a bad name; we’re apathetic and idle, and would apparently rather binge watch Netflix that actually engage in real social issues. The great shame of this is that we live in an era that should incline us more than ever towards political action. With the touch of a button we can sign a petition, share an article or tweet an MP, and yet in the EU referendum only 36% of 18-24 year olds chose to use their vote, compared to 83% of people aged 65 and above.
The growing Corbynista trend aside, why are most young people so reluctant to align themselves with a political party? Perhaps it is because they no longer find themselves reflected in mainstream politics. Until recently, the time old ‘why bother, they’re all the same anyway’ seemed a fitting response to the obvious centralisation in British politics. Turn on the TV and you could see Conservatives heralding the NHS, and Labour promising to crackdown on immigration. Political parties’ attempts to pander to the youth vote are embarrassing at best, and offensive at worst. Feeble jokes about legalising marijuana or empty promises to curb tuition fees that have since been tripled are surprisingly not the way to win the hearts of young people.
The last general election was somewhat half-hearted, and failed to revitalise the youth vote. Although there were some significant gains made on the part of Labour and the Green Party, who released manifestos pledging to combat the issues facing young people, there was no real increase in the overall youth voter turnout rate.
Disillusionment with establishments is growing in Britain, with the media choosing to heavily focus on the MP’s expenses scandal, as well as overseas policies and economic disasters. Unsurprisingly, politicians are no longer trusted as the signposts for change. Politics is first and foremost an institution, and while it has always been inherently ‘pale, stale and male’, our current political climate only rarely offers any sign of a move away from this.
However, now that the stakes are higher than ever, there is hope that young people will feel more motivated to vote. The national identity crisis triggered by the EU referendum brought to a head the simmering political animosity in the UK. For once, the debate was not a clash of parties, but rather a clash of ideologies- for the first time in recent years people had something to vehemently back or fight against.
Since the last general election, the political climate has markedly evolved. If Corbyn’s popularity signals anything, it is that young people can be engaged in politics. For many young people, this is the first election in living memory in which they see a discernible difference between the two main candidates. On the day the general election was called, nearly 58,000 people under the age of 25 registered to vote- more than any other age group. Within three days this had risen to 100,000, potentially signalling a far greater youth turnout than we have seen for the past two decades.
In the government’s attempts to increase the youth turnout, they must remember that young people are not a political monolith. The percentage of 18-24 year olds that voted for the green party in the last election was the same as the percentage that voted for UKIP.
However, regardless of political affiliation, young people are united by the fact that they have born the brunt of the economic recession. To reengage the youth vote, political parties must include policies that acknowledge the needs of young people, and more importantly, they must stick to them.