British politics is trapped in a notoriously vicious circle. Young people feel they aren’t represented in politics and therefore don’t vote, then politicians don’t develop policies aimed at young people, making young people feel evermore isolated from politics… and therefore don’t vote.
Just 44% of 18-24-year-olds voted in the 2010 general election compared with 76% of over-65s. Contrast that with 1964, where turnout was almost identical among the youngest group – then aged 21-24 – of voters (76.4%) and the eldest (76.7%).
Its hardly surprising that young people don’t feel inclined to vote, with few policies targeted at first or second time voters and the ones that are being reneged as soon as parties get into power (see Lib Dem’s disastrous tuition fee policy of 2010). Also many young people feel under represented and are baffled as to how a parliament made up of mainly white, middle class, middle aged men can understand some of the most pressing issues they face. Indeed in the BBC Newsbeat Election Debates the most discussed issues where those of tuition fees, representation and trust.
However there is another option, the ‘none of the above’ movement. Championed by Rick Edwards (yes, political advice from the presenter of ‘Tool Academy’ does seem odd, but no more odd than Russell Brand). Edwards reckons that, instead of not voting at this year’s General Election, like Brand suggested, anyone who doesn’t feel represented by any political party should make their voice heard, choosing ‘None of the Above’ – also the title of his new book – by spoiling their ballot paper at a polling booth on 7th May. In an interview with VICE Magazine Edwards explains how ‘spoiling your ballot is a kind of ‘none of the above’ option, but I think people don’t really realise that this is a valid thing to do. It’s a way of saying, ‘Actually, what I’m being offered isn’t good enough.’ And it will be counted.’ Edwards has written a book outlining his ideas which he feels people will be able to relate to, because up until a few years ago he wasn’t very politically engaged, voting out of what he describes as ‘a sense of duty’ rather than any real political allegiance.
A petition to include ‘none of the above’ as a valid option on UK Ballot papers is garnering lots of attention, claiming that a fundamental requisite of democracy is to withhold consent claiming that ‘none of the above’ is ‘the only way to formally withhold consent at an election. Abstaining is not formally withholding consent, it is simply not participating and can be dismissed as voter apathy with no further analysis.’ Until ‘none of the above’ becomes a formal option on ballot papers, Rick Edwards and Co. want anyone who can’t identify or align themselves with a political party to spoil their ballot paper as a form of protest.
When young people don’t vote, its seen as apathetic and is largely ignored, yet if young people turn out to vote and the spoil their ballot papers it shows that lots of the electorate feel there is no valid option for them and they are unhappy about it, and that can’t be ignored as easily.