Much has been made of the apparent apathy of first time voters. In an election where they have been effectively written out of the manifestos, Andrew Tucker gives us some insight in this remarkably perceptive piece:
Hello! My name’s Andrew Tucker, Beeston/Nottingham/Broxtowe born and bred, I’m a first year undergrad in English at KCL, singer in an unsigned band (IVORYSERFS) and in the grand scheme of British society I am nobody yet. In fact, few
people my age are seemingly important. Yet. If you keep reading you’ll begin to spot a theme here and I hope I don’t bludgeon you around the head with it too heavily. Maybe a sharp written poke to the navel will suffice. Regardless, Suzanne Moore in The Guardian has bemoaned the lack of truly ‘youthful’ voices in the election and I felt I had to write something, as I have both a: some opinions and b: the means to write them down, which seem to be the two prerequisites of having a voice, and, if you pay attention only to traditional media, more than anyone under around twenty-five has done. I’ll try to rein myself in but I feel strongly about this. I hope you’ll forgive any deranged lapses into incoherency if they’re tempered by strong feelings. I’ll try to keep it together:
I am twenty years old. This generation – my generation – is getting a short shrift. We have been grandly misperceived, grossly underestimated and grotesquely patronised for far too long. They say a week is a long time in politics. If we subscribe to this idiom, it stands that five years is an aeon. This May’s election will deliver five years’ worth of new voters to the ballot boxes, not that you’ll have heard about it.
What kind of voters are these, you ask? We certainly don’t hear much about them, not enough to build a mental profile beyond the typical face-glued-to-phone image, at any rate. Are these new voters just the precocious few who manage to clamber out of the pool of ignorance that common parlance would have all youngsters flailing in?
Perhaps it’s all true. Perhaps while the real grown-ups bicker over The Deficit, we’re the demographic mired in our attention-deficits; perhaps while the Natural Leaders of the country decide who does and does not get to eat in food bank Britain, we take needlessly beatified pictures of meals and share them on Instagram to inspire jealousy. Yes, after all, perhaps we’re all just self-obsessed. I’ve certainly spoken to a few people of my age who, faced with a political status quo that chooses to present itself opaquely – to cover itself with a custodial veil – choose unhelpfully to withdraw into themselves, saying (I paraphrase for brevity’s sake): ‘why would we engage with politics when it doesn’t engage with us?’.
Politicians know older people vote. That’s why so many policies in this year’s manifestos pander to them, often at the expense of younger people, as our voting levels dwindle.This is, fairly or not, why politics doesn’t engage with us. As I know, as many like me know, however, it’s our generation that has to make the first move in this societal eco-system. Not everyone my age understands that, but it doesn’t make them apathetic – at least, not in the way they’re painted. You see, apathy has two causes: the first is lack of concern, care, interest – this is how we, the youth vote, are frequently tarnished. The second form of apathy, however, is the inner supposition that one has no faculty to influence the outcome of external events. Well I posit this: the prevailing meme held about us by those in their advancing years is in essence a category error. Those of us that refrain to vote do so not because they don’t care but because they care and feel they are without power to act on this care.
Can you blame them? In 2010, when I was fourteen, many who are now about to vote for the first time witnessed something that even we knew was unprecedented. It seems difficult to even conceptualise ‘Cleggmania’ now, as we see that deflated avatar of ‘change’ make gesticulations of emptiness to a base of nobody. Mania hints at what it was though – after the inaugural British TV debate, the Lib Dems’ polling shot up astronomically. He was literally (literally in the original sense) an overnight sensation. A Guardian headline soon after read: ‘Nick Clegg – the British Obama?’
Imagine the baby-faced first-time voters then. In the shadow of a Great Recession and given a supposedly binary choice between the withered, wrinkled, idealistically hollow Labour Party and, er… the Tories. Suddenly the Lib Dems’ incredibly progressive manifesto and Clegg’s apparently fresh buoyancy were intoxicating to a great many young people; inspiring, worth investing hope in. My past equivalents –the electoral virgins of five years ago – were jubilant and voted for the Lib Dems in their droves.
Everyone saw what happened next. We knew we’d be at university with a new tuition fee of nine grand a year, leaving many of us with over £50,000 of debt post-university. It affected my generation more than anyone perhaps yet knows. Most were too young to protest, but we looked on: first time voters bought into idealism and left short-changed. All it did was confirm in many young people’s heads two things: our leaders are dishonest, British democracy is not for you.
Five years on now and another party has captured the hearts of young people more than any other. The Greens have made waves and are in many ways the embodiment of the sensitive, concerned millennial with their attitudes regarding social equality, environmental prioritisation and confronting vested interests. I personally won’t be voting for them for reasons I won’t detail, but they do have my unashamed support (and hey, older folk, you’re not excluded. Remember when the energy companies used to be a national asset?).
The ‘Green Surge’, as it’s quickly come to be known (polls put them on 11% this January) has happened only with the aid of new forms of media, social sites like Facebook being an imperative pillar. Yet there is a perception that information disseminated via social media is by definition inherently of a diminished standard and politically ineffective – just juvenilia for adolescent minds so they can convince themselves they’re playing a part in democracy, while actually knowing nothing about the world.
Well, we certainly have a different perspective on the world around us, at least. When we’re middle-aged in, say, 2045, we will have to live with the imploding or imploded ecological and economic systems our preceding generations have gifted us, (along with the admittedly numerous positive institutions), as our inheritance. Yet when I talk to older people they often categorise support for the Greens as naïve idealism for the political illiterates. They say: ‘Yes, but when you’re older…’
I want to ask them this in return: how easy is it distinguish between the achievement of maturity – i.e. realising that a vast positive societal overhaul is silly and unreachable, settling down and proselytising instead about self-interest, voting in subtly different shades rather than boldly different hues – and, simply, losing the fire in one’s belly?
Even if the older crowd has given up on progress – and I’m far from sure that they all have – well, we have plenty of fire left. What has been mistaken for a mountain of political apathy is in actuality a dormant dragon, a colossal curled hydra possessing the sheer kinetic energy required to sweep away thirty-six years of neoliberal wastage. If you’ll pardon the melodramatic metaphor.
So: we might seem mute to you now, but that’s in part because our ideas are quickly shot down as naiveté and in part because we have no purchase in traditional media. We might seem disengaged and uncaring, and some of us are, but for logical reasons. That can and will change in the years to come. We might even watch Russell Brand’s Youtube channel, but we’re not star-struck morons who take him as an information-age Che Guevara. We’re capable of parsing what’s useful and what isn’t. We take his prompts about TTIP but, if comments below his series are anything to go by, we’ll sure as hell be ignoring his calls not to vote.
So: watch out. We may be vulnerable to impulses of instant gratification; we’re also the first generation that grew up with all the information in the world at our instant beck-and-call. We may seem detached, aloof and disconnected from the world; remember that we’re the first generation raised with the ability to communicate, convey ideas and spread our points of view in the blink of an eye. We’re prematurely cynical but we’re full of hope. And we’re about to be enfranchised.
The dormant dragon looks asleep; maybe it is asleep. But perhaps its eyes are merely closed in meditation, perhaps it’s been quietly taking everything in, mulling it over, realising its incredible potency, testing its ideas. And when it gets up, well then…Andrew Tucker