Think things are bad at the moment? Time for the young person maybe!

Well – they seemed bad to me!   House prices at a level that I can’t even consider buying a house. An NHS that is not failing, but being failed.  An older generation who can appear out of touch with the needs of the young, content to enjoy their triple lock pensions and take us out of the EU with all the problems it may well cause in the future. Spiralling student loans, with a spiralling cost of living, and reduced career prospects through a ‘gig’ economy. Our environment increasingly compromised, often at the convenience of big business, to name but a few of the issues!  We all have a view on who is responsible and what the answers are. We certainly seem to live in a more polarised society now.

A tipping point for me was the vote to leave the EU, triggered by such a dishonest campaign.  However, all of the above contributed to my reaching a point where I wanted to ‘push back’ and do something to help my future.   I do not think I am alone. I decided to join the Labour Party because it shared my core values and offered me hope for the future.   To achieve this hope, I believe it is vital that we engage the entire younger generation to respond - and become active in the whole political process. I think we are starting to see this a bit more now and it is exciting….

One thing that was clearly noticeable about Brexit was that young people voted overwhelmingly to remain, and many have said that they were left with a bitter taste because of it.  Some might say that this then led to something remarkable happening during GE 2017. When those same young people, which traditionally have a lower voter turnout and could be considered disinterested, used the most noble and acceptable method to explain their unhappiness.  They put a cross in a ballet box. From my experience, there was clearly more interest by young people and first-time voters in GE’17, and it was great to see.

A common view, that I agree with, is that the collective frustration of young remainers feeling outvoted over Brexit contributed to higher levels of engagement as they didn’t trust many ‘out of touch’ politicians that are safe from the consequences of their actions.  This is a positive step as I cannot help but think that large swathes of first time/young voters and students that are disinterested in politics or are feeling voiceless is not a good thing. It seems vital to engage them by whatever legitimate means available. I believe they are key to us avoiding incrementally starting down a path towards those terrible extreme governments - of left and right - that we learnt about, not so long ago, in school history lessons.  

Remember a government SHOULD represent, and MUST be accountable to, ALL of society. There is very little that matters more in a free democratic society.   Engaging young people is a key to achieving this.

If I need another reason to convince you of the importance of the younger vote, then try this: - Reactive politics can only go so far. After the end of the Second World War, we had some huge challenges! In the years that followed the war, the new Labour government built many new homes, repaired the infrastructure, put our economy on course, built schools and reformed the education system, and of course created the National Health Service that despite years of Tory assault, is still ranked amongst the best in the world.   ALL the people of the country were put first. Not just the few. It feels sometimes like we seem to have lost a bit of our ability to dream and to think big and plan for the longer term.

Younger voters can help change this and are crucial to this process.  They are less jaded, are less prejudiced, more creative, and they learn fast.   They clearly often view the world differently and have a greater interest in the longer view.   We must engage them fully. As a nation, one could argue that we are often guilty of not putting more thought into how big decisions affect people years down the line. Then we appear puzzled when young people say they feel disillusioned, marginalized, or forgotten about.  

I believe that the current Labour leadership is fighting passionately for the future of young people today.  There is no suggestion here of any radical change or removal of senior figures to be replaced with much younger ones.  With age comes experience, the ability to think more unilaterally, absorb more pressure, and deal with people better. However, it is truly worrying, that so few young people are engaged with politics.  I think we must get to the bottom of the problem and fix it, to ensure that politics is championed by a greater diversity in age.

One of the more interesting stories from GE17 for me was how the first time voter and student turnout appeared at least to jump up, and we were hearing Chinese whispers in the committee rooms of queues at polling stations in student areas.  The main conclusion I drew was that young people were fighting for their futures in a way that we had perhaps not seen before. This benefitted the left as our values were generally appealing to them. It appears to have scared the Tories who have become aware that they need to do more to attract younger votes and have launched new initiatives that might appeal to them.  They will fight harder next time. Who will get the younger vote?

There have been various follow-up articles and discussions since the last election asking the question about how much the young vote actually mattered in GE2017.  Speaking from the front line in Southampton, I still maintain that regardless of the statistics, the last few years has made it very clear how important it is to engage with, and actually listen to all young people.  Their vote can massively influence elections and it is morally right to include them. Even if they didn’t ultimately change too much in GE2017 statistically, the evidence of how influential they can be is clear and their increased involvement was certainly a shot across the bow for parliament!

No party has yet fully harnessed the power of first time and younger voters.  The one that does will gain an advantage in the next general election and we should really welcome young people being politically active and helping to shape our countries priorities. They can help us begin to shape a country where everyone can flourish and have a chance to fulfil their true potential, and where everyone can work together to make the country a better place.  We must fully engage them in the whole process, rather than just in key, ‘vote winning’ areas such as Brexit and house building.

Even if a young person is too young to vote today, but they will tomorrow. We must engage them now.  Any young person who has ever written an essay will tell you that those that fail to plan, truly do plan to fail!   


MATT BUNDAY is a 32-year-old political activist.  He is the press officer for Southampton and Romsey Labour Party. His day job is as an event and production manager within the live event industry and he is also a university academic. He is hoping to run for local council in 2019 and has a passion for engaging young people and first-time voters.

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