HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUTH POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT POST-2017
BY SHONA LEIGH POPE
After an improved turnout of enthusiastic young voters in the June 2017 UK General Election surely now is the time to accept the cliché of young people having little interest in politics is simply not true. That said, differentiated turnout still casts a shadow over British politics.
In 2015 those aged 18-24 were almost half as likely to vote as those aged 65 and over. According to YouGov at the 2017 General Election 58% of 18-24 year olds used their vote compared to 81% of those aged 60 and over. Younger voters may have engaged to a greater extent in 2017 than 2015 but generational differentiation in voter turnout is still powerfully prevalent.
While differentiation in turnout was prevalent but gleefully closing, differentiation in political affiliation was increasing. To a far greater extent than in 2015 the young moved towards Labour while older voters moved towards the incumbent Conservative party.
Clearly this has a multidimensional aspect to it. Brexit, although accepted by the Labour hierarchy was perhaps seen by many young people as being owned by the Conservatives. The fact that younger voters were far more likely to vote against Brexit, while older voters were far more likely to vote for Brexit, does go some way towards explaining this party political voting. This however doesn’t tell the whole story.
In 2017 the Labour vote surged among the young by directly addressing issues surrounding young people; in particular the abolishment of student tuition fees. Compare this to 2015 when then Labour leader Ed Miliband put forward reducing tuition fee caps from £9,000 to £6,000 a year. Hardly a call to the barricades.
Labour also heavily relied upon social media to get across its message. Facebook is currently, behind TV news, the second greatest news source for the UK population as a whole, never mind young people who do though use social media to a greater degree than their older peers. Momentum, the Jeremy Corbyn supporting wing of the Labour party utilised online videos to a huge extent over the 2017 campaign and with the decline of traditional newspaper sales this type of political media will likely only become more important in the future.
The Labour campaign itself also cleverly used music events such as Glastonbury and the Libertines gig at the football ground of Tranmere Rovers FC to directly address young people while simultaneously creating a spectacle that would be seen across media platforms. Combined with a chant of “oh-Jeremy-Corbyn” to the tune of The White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army” there was created an atmosphere and credibility that would be difficult to achieve for any politician, never-mind a 68 year old whose favourite pastime is gardening.
The very fact that Corbyn himself comes across in such a down-to-earth manner and could not be seen as ostentatious gave him credibility that perhaps could not have been achieved by others. The adoration was genuine and unironic, he was not trying to be someone he was not and in doing so gained far greater respect. The cringe worthy attempts of politicians in the past to claim they like certain modern bands or music has often come across as frankly insulting to the intelligence and genuine political aspirations of the young. The young could be imagined saying “I don’t care if you like the Arctic Monkey’s, will you be paying my tuition fees?”
If the turnout of young people in voting booths continues to increase in future elections, politics in Britain could be given the change it so desperately needs. For the Labour party in particular an increase in the turnout of the young would greatly enhance their chances of electoral success.
So what can we do to ensure young people stay politically active?
Firstly, as a young person who voted in the election, I believe that voter turnout among young people in Britain increased due to the fact that we felt like we finally had a voice. We felt as though we were being acknowledged; that our issues were being addressed and therefore we had a reason to use our vote. The evidence from 2015 and 2017 clearly shows this. This must be maintained if the young are to engage politically or for there to be any further increase in youth turnout at future elections.
Secondly, we need to build more hype surrounding the party’s youth wings, do more to show what is on offer for those who get involved, show young people what they can really do. Many young people are still unaware that these youth wings even exist.
Thirdly, as outlined above, the use of social media to engage young voters who are far less likely to watch TV news or buy newspapers is really important. Social media also serves as a way to undermine the narrative put out by many major newspaper titles. Therefore maintaining social media output, as Momentum did in particular during the 2017 election, will be vital to maintaining youth engagement.
Fourthly, we need a platform across a wider range of political perspectives. Regardless of your political stance, a wider range of political youth platforms will encourage more young people to get involved in politics, and could create a more democratic space to work, debate, develop and share ideas.
Roughly six months on from the snap election in June, and people are still suffering from voter fatigue; Brexit almost doesn’t seem like a real word anymore and the idea of keeping up with politics sounds entirely exhausting to a huge number of people. It seems that grasping on to people’s political attentiveness will be harder than ever in the upcoming months. We have perhaps though reached a milestone in the June 2017 election. Young people are more politically engaged now than they have been in years. We must build upon this and ensure their concerns are addressed and the issues surrounding them are raised to the top of the political agenda.