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.
The arts, traditionally a great social mobility elevator, is increasingly being solely the preserve of those who can afford it.
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.
Am I being picky when I say you have contradicted yourself in the last paragraph? “… more difficult to register” and “It’s a lot simpler” don’t sit well together.
You knock the Tories and UKIP, show a pic referring to the much maligned LibDem pledge, but fail to mention Labour who introduced tuition fees after saying they wouldn’t, then trebled them after saying they would freeze them. Not forgetting the abolition of the spare room subsidy in the private rental sector, also Labour’s doing.
I wonder who you are rooting for sometimes, but you cannot claim the article above is non-partisan.
Yes, that could have been expressed with better wording: my point was that the previous system automatically registered many, while the new system puts the emphasis on the individual to ensure they’re registered. While that is simple to many, it can be baffling to first time voters who just assume registration is automatic. It’s simple if you know how, is the crucial point.
I don’t absolve Labour whatsoever for blame: a huge amount of disenfranchisement was a result of the Blair years: the table I displayed shows what a nadir 2005 was. My hope is that the young do show they are an electable force, and get their vote out. I’m always adament that I’m not non-partisan: who is? I’m not the BBC, and never say I am committed to their impartiality code. This is above all a private blog, where I write MY thoughts and feelings. I am very much not tied in any way to a party however: I am on the left, clearly, but my personal politics take in a range of ideas: I like the Lib Dems for their belief in constitutional and electoral reform, the Tories for their (admittedly thin these days) concepts of One-Nation rule, I like the Greens for their radicalism. I reckon if I read Plaid Cymru’s manifesto when it’s released, I’ll be finding bits I nod along to. As long as it’s not in Welsh. Choosing a party to nail all my colours too is as nonsensical as asking me to choose between being a Roundhead or Cavalier. The tribalism isn’t healthy.
So no, I don’t claim that I write from a strict non-partisan place. Yet I do declare my bias / general stance. So much media right now doesn’t, and that is the true enemy of informed debate.
I just don’t care. I know I should, I know that I’m not happy about the current situation, party or system and I know that I need to vote for the person who will at least try to change it but no one has ever made me care about it. It doesn’t feel like it’s real, like it’s a game that keeps being played again and again and again by MPs and old people and the activists and the journalists that doesn’t bring about any real change coming out of it. The result of the game seems to be completely disconnected to anything that happens in the real world.
I am part of the most interconnected generation ever and I have amazing and unprecedented access to more resources then other time on this earth. I have the privilege to live in the most accepting and least discriminatory time that there has ever been and have been shown so many different views and an environment to form my own. What I have gathered through this is only that if you take away all the bureaucracy, the groans and moans of each party and the views and pressures from family or teachers or friends, if you take away the game, all you are left with is the same group of rich, white people with the same views and the same goal and you end up just not caring.
And why should we? It’s not like anything has actually changed in the time we have been alive.
It’s simple why people don’t vote, there is no change. As a 17 year old who is an enthusiastic Marxist, I learnt the majority of politics through my parents who are active voters an have always reinforced the importance of voting.However, as I have grown up, yes I believe voting is important but more so to prevent other parties from power then to support one.
Similarly to previous points, politics is all smoke and façades. parties may express that they are alternative to other said party but in actual fact they aren’t they are just after power and money. There doesn’t seem to be any passion for change or to better society. To brutally honest there seems to be more collaboration in street gangs than in parliament.
More frustratingly the media plays a massive role in creating a bias political system by covering more parties than others. For people who will happily be brain washed by a screen and not question, creates a simple political zombie who although has little understanding will quite happily argue otherwise.
To conclude I think since we live in a multi-cultural society and less discriminatory society people think the fight for a better world is over when it is still far from it.