Early April, 1992. Page 6 of the Nottingham Evening Post. The main page for long-form features: the serious, hard nosed journalism page. In grainy black and white, a group of six earnest looking students stare out of the page, imploringly. ‘WHY WE AREN’T VOTING ON THURSDAY’ read the headline.
If you cared to look closer at the picture, you would have noticed one of the students, the one it took you a second to work out the gender of due to the shoulder-spilling hair, was a student called Matt, 18. Read the article, which just before the General Election finds 6 first time voters who had decided not to bother voting, and you’d realise that he’d dispensed this pearl of incredible political insight to the journalist ‘It doesn’t matter who you vote for, you’ll just get the same old rubbish’.
I’d not said much as I’d been eating a Pot Noodle during the interview. I was at college at the time, studying Media, and had an excruciating afternoon of marketing lectures to look forward to. But just before lunch, a request was put to us: would any first time voters like to chat to a nice lady from the papers about refusing to vote? If so, we’d sadly have to miss marketing. My hand shot up, as I realised I could now nip to the pub at lunch, smoke more than four roll-ups and still have time to stuff my gob with reconstituted noodle and soya.
Come election day, I excitedly betrayed my promise in the press and slapped an enthusiastic X next to my chosen candidate. I then spent the evening with my then-girlfriend, sadly denied the vote on account of turning 18 a few days after the event, and tuned into an evening of Dimbleby and Snow tediously cutting to dull men in dull halls reading out lists of dull numbers. I’ve been hooked since.
Yet the five people I was interviewed with weren’t opportunists who fancied a cheeky lunchtime pint. They meant it. They weren’t a tiny minority either. At that election, only 67% of people aged 18-14 bothered voting, well below the 77% average of all ages. 80% of those aged over 65 did there democratic duty.
That was a relative high point for turn out. Disengagement with politics hit it’s nadir in 2005, with only 38% of young people bothering, against an average of 61%. Things improved a little in 2010, with just over half of young people turning up: an effect that is often credited to the Clegg’s performance in the debates, and his promises to scrap tuition fees.
Why this disengagement? Could it be, quite simply, they don’t want you to vote?
Sounds paradoxical, of course. A political party gives not a jot who votes for them, as long as they get the numbers. Yet young people are an
inconvenience. They are hard to canvass, hard to get to the polling station, and notoriously capricious with their intentions. Better to focus resources on the older vote. They have more time to get to the polling station, have much more experience of the system, and are more rigid in their intentions. When I’ve been to hustings, or other public political meetings I have the strange sensation of being young again.
As such, it becomes easier to legislate. Pensioners are sacred. They’ve done disproportionately well under austerity, insulated from the worst excesses. Pensions and universal pensioner benefits protected. Exclusion from the Bedroom Tax. Greater asset wealth through increased house prices.
The young are not so lucky. Tuition fees. EMA scrapped ( a decision local councillor Steve Carr famously supported as he once saw ‘Some students eating pizza and drinking beer. If they can afford that, why do they need EMA?’), making education more exclusive. Zero Hour contracts ensuring they can’t find stability in work, but keep off the unemployment stats.
Youth services – in particular Connexions – have been all but wiped out, denying crucial advice for those struggling after leaving compulsory education.
Young people with mental health issues have had their services cut, despite overwhelming evidence that early adult intervention leads to huge reductions in rates later in life. The charity Young Minds has reported that it has had to step in and help those who would have previously been referred to local authority /NHS services, services now subject to swingeing budget slashes, if not outright closure.
Green issues, which will impact most on the young (as they’ll be alive to suffer the consequences of environmental ruination and climate change).
The bigots of UKIP run riot as their core vote are most likely to make it to a polling station. There support among the young is minuscule.
Chances of owning your own house? Get real. Or a lottery win.
Young people. You’re being shat on.
Yet why bother? Surely it’s the same whoever you vote for, right? Isn’t Russel Brand spot-on, when he claimed he never voted as it made little difference?
Brand was right in many ways. His often overtly verbose proclamations are often spot on, and the lazy dismissals his critics make are brilliantly dealt with in this article. However, disengagement from the vote is, to borrow Stuart Lee’s description of voting UKIP
“…like shitting on your hotel bed to protest bad service, and then having to sleep in it.”
We get the politicians we deserve. If we disengage, then the self-serving run free. Why bother trying, when you know no-one cares? Best get in, get what you can, and get your moat cleaned monthly. The people? They’re too busy saying we’re crap but not doing anything about it.
It is a cliche to bring up the Suffragettes smashing windows and throwing themselves under horses to stress the value of voting. Yet the importance of having a vote was realised well before that, right here in Notts. We razed Nottingham Castle after the Civil War to symbolise the destruction of the Monarchy ruling the roost. Two hundred years later, we burnt it down again after it’s occupier, the Duke of Newcastle, voted against electoral reform.
I’m not having a go at the elderly here. I like the fact they are legislated for.I don’t want them to be denied protection from the bedroom tax. I’d like EVERYONE denied protection from the nasty levy. I don’t want their benefit protection scrapped. I’d like all benefits protected. I don’t want our politicians writing legislation just for the elderly. I want them writing it for us all.
I’m preaching to the converted, I suppose. I realised how interested readers here are interested in politics when I hived off the topic to another blog: I was asked so many times why I’d done that and how disappointed they were, that I thought it best to bring it back. Some wags have written stating ‘Yeah, it’s cos there’s an election coming’ , possibly arching an eyebrow and giving a little nod as they typed, as if to say ‘There. I’ve exposed the evil leftist cabal that he works for, and it’s cynical ploys to swing the vote’ . As I’ve said before, if the cabal are out there, please get in touch. Unlike most of my critics, I’m not paid to polemicise. But I digress. What can we do?
There are over a million missing voters out there, the majority first-time voters. This is due to changes in the registration system that make it more difficult to register. Locally, the registration rates have dropped an incredible 6.4%. First-time voters might not realise they need to register, and simply assume they just go to the polling station in May and have a vote. If you know any first-time voters, or anyone you might suspect of not registering, pass on this link: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. It takes five minutes. It’s a lot simpler than torching a castle or jumping under a horse.