Since the 2001 General Election, the key issue when it comes to elections is undoubtedly turnout. The falling percentage of those venturing out to vote (59.4% in 2001) compared to older elections (77.2% in 1992, just nine years earlier) has now seen society polarised between those who vote and those who choose not to. Falling voter turnout has also seen the rise of a new kind of politics directed towards the elderly population, as they are statistically more likely to vote.
I’m not going to bemoan why political parties announce policies mostly aimed at maintaining an unbalanced status quo of financial perks for the retired population paid for by the young and in work. One side must take the first step on their own. That side has to be the politicians that are looking for young people to vote for them. Too many politicians take the easy path to electoral success by targeting only those who currently vote. As Barack Obama showed in 2008, if you want to make a real difference then you have to take the hard path sometimes.
There’s one very obvious thing that candidates can do that top-level politicians have only recently began to use: social media. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are a perfect tool for politicians to communicate with young people. In my constituency of New Forest West, our MP has a Facebook page and twitter profile but fails to use them to effectively communicate with young people – if young people are to feel engaged then politicians must use social media effectively. Another MP has conducted a live question and answer session where he would answer questions posed by Facebook users and it was streamed live to his Facebook page so people could watch. It is tools like live Q&A’s that candidates and politicians must use. Not only did I feel like I had a say, I could see that many others felt the same way too.
But social media is just the start. It will take political parties and governments to enact policies that are targeted at helping young people get on in life. Recent government policies such as removing housing benefit for those under twenty one years of age and scrapping University maintenance grants and transforming them into loans surely will only add to the growing apathy amongst young people. Candidates that want to help young people should start by pushing within their parties for policies supporting greater funding for Further Education, apprenticeships, and in affordable housing.
The last election was dominated by issues that affected predominantly older members of society with immigration, the NHS and the European Union all being among the top of the agenda. If the political parties adapted their strategy and fought the election on issues such housing, the economy and education then I am certain that young people would be much more likely to vote. We can’t just expect young people to vote in the hope that one day a political party that gets into power will do what is needed to ensure young people thrive in jobs and education.
Young people care about their future. We won’t get anywhere if the lack of young people voting is blamed on the young being uncommitted to their future. If we want young people to be involved, every candidate that cares about our future must set the agenda. Whether a candidate in a local election or a party leader, by setting the agenda and getting the issues young people care about widely discussed in the media in addition to using social media to get their message across, you can then start to engage young people in their future.
Most of all, I think it’s time that politicians gave sixteen and seventeen year-olds the vote – but that’s affirmative action that will have to be discussed at another time.