Britain is undergoing a struggle with itself which threatens her strength and stability. Young voters are disenfranchised and feel utterly disconnected from the political process. This is contributing to the rise of extremist parties like the BNP, and feeding the authoritarian right in the form of UKIP.
In the past 22 years, voter turn out has taken a nose dive. Only 44% of young people aged 18-25 voted in the 2010 general election compared to 76% of those aged 65 or over. In the 2014 European Elections just passed, UK voter turn out sat a nearly 10% bellow the european average, and continued the trend of declining interest and participation in the voting process.
The attitude of today’s youth echoes that of 1970′s punk revolution of pretty vacant kids who just do not identify with the establishment, and are apathetically festering, waiting for a rebellion that feels right around the corner.
‘There is no point in me voting. I don’t know what I will be voting for. I don’t understand politics, and I don’t know what each of them is going to do.”
Megan Hunt is an intelligent university student, the kind that should be engaged in the political process and yet feels like it is a separate entity to her and her life.
Reece Parke feels very much in the same way. He is another university student, studying finance, who will not vote. In his eyes the parties ‘Don’t care about policy, they just want to beat the other party.’ UKIP are far from an option for this non-voter as he put it ‘can any human being actually want that?’
And they are far from alone. With parties pushing policy aimed at business owners, families and the retired it hardly seems politicians care about issues that interest the younger crowd. Celebrities like Russell Brand are hardly helping, going as far as to suggest education in general should be disregarded.
Young voters (those under 35, not just those turning 18) have no reason to vote. The parties have their numbers in the form of entrenched voting blocks, mud slinging politics and a voting system the almost ensures a two party system, like it or not.
‘The main political parties will target the established middle aged voter. They know the 30, 40, 50 plus will be registered to vote. They are the ones they are targeting because they know the youth are disengaged so paradoxically they wont bother.’
Michael Hodges, Chairman for South East Dorset Green Party, sees this as the great sin of mainstream politics. Smaller parties, he argues, are looking at the long term future for these younger voters. Some young voters agree with some of the more switched on voters in this demographic deciding Green is the way to go.
Where the third option for many voters was in the past the Liberal Democrats, past betrayals such as the u-turn on university fees has pushed young voters to parties like the Greens, Socialists and the up and coming Pirate Party UK.
Jack Mckeever, a 20 year old student voter, would have voted Labour, but feels Ed Milliband is a ‘vacant husk’, simply a robot pre-programmed with buzzwords and sound bites. He says Liberal Democrats would have been an option but has trust issues with them after the student fees betrayal, feeling they let themselves be walked over by the Conservatives in the coalition. He is now voting Green.
The formulaic of approach of politicians and they’re rhetoric of growth, GDP, jobs and immigration does not speak to these voters. Though some, like Jack, will still vote, the number of young people who will abstain from the political process is staggering. In a poll conducted by YouGov, 60% of the population as a whole intends on voting in the next general election. However, only 41% of 17-21 year old have any intention of voting, where as 75% of over 60s will say they will cast their ballot. Over 60′s represent 28% of the population, where as 17-24 make up only 13%, making it clear who parties in power will aim their policies towards.
This age based voting is one of the key components in the lack of confidence British youth have for democracy, according to Loz Kaye, Chairman of the Pirate Party UK. ‘The entire democratic process is in real crisis in Britain. Our turnouts are much lower (than the rest of Europe), we saw under 15% in many areas for the Police Commissioner Elections for example.’
A new party, the Pirates have had a string of successes in the European parliament, along with the governments of Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany. The one of the key reasons for their success, says Mr Kaye, is that the Pirate Party have addressed issues that young voters care about.
‘There are many reasons why young voters feel that politics is not for them, and they are not just apathetic many are angry. This is not least because everything the government does is geared to please older voters. We have profiled policy that benefits young people- ending age discrimination in the benefits system, getting fairer deals for interns, votes at 16, reversing university tuition fees.’
There are however, young voters who disagree, and embrace the establishment in all its entrenched glory. Aaron Newbury, a young man very active in politics intends on one day running as an MP. He is in his early twenties and will vote Conservative.
‘They are in my eyes more concerned with young futures than any other party. Securing investment and creating jobs is at the top of their agenda, this means better future for the young.’
Aaron doesn’t see the lack of faith held by British youth in the government as a well thought out reaction or a hint of pre-revolution, the kind that has torn Ukraine apart. It is childish rebellion, as “young rebel against everything for little or no reason.’
Young and impressionable voters who feel let down by the system are easily radicalised. This is the methodology of groups like the BNP, who recently released their youth sections chilling and disturbing video with the slogan ‘give a clear message to our people.’ The section will in future be known as the ‘Resistance’. The message of the ‘Griffin Youth’ is one of pure hate and bigotry. As Mr. Kaye of the Pirate Party says ‘Day in day out, week in week out, year in year out we have seen an onslaught of xenophobic headlines from the popular tabloid press. Many of these stories have been shown to be baseless later, but the overall effect has been very powerful.’
This is what’s at risk by allowing British youth to fall through the cracks and grow up disconnected from their government. With UKIP trending sharply in polls, a Britain which does not represent the whole of its people both at home and in the EU is on the cards, leaving a bleak future, one of, according to Mr. Kaye, ‘privatisation in the NHS, eroding of workers’ rights, and a disastrous tax policy.’