Despite fears about the EU referendum’s roots and origins in the anti-immigrant campaign of the hard right, the EU referendum is direct democracy in action. It is an historic opportunity to make our voices heard.
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” is a question facing all eligible voters in the UK on June 23rd. The results will be hotly anticipated.
The decision made on June 23rd will have profound consequences for decades to come. So there has never been a more important time for young people to get involved and stand up for their principles. Imploring young people to have their say, create change and lay the foundations for a future in or out of Europe, Jeremy Corbyn noted correctly that “the people who will be most affected if Britain leaves the EU will not be my generation, but your generation.”
But research shows political apathy is entrenched amongst young people. Ipsos-Mori discovered only 43% of 18–24 year old eligible voters in the UK used their vote during the 2015 General Election, compared to 78% for the older generation. This equates to only roughly a quarter of young people being represented at the last election. Moreover, 1.4 million have fallen off the electoral register since changes to voter registrations, and some 40% of 16 and 17 year old people, who would soon have been eligible have disappeared from the electoral register altogether.
Young people feel more strongly about staying in the EU than older people, but are less confident about asserting their right to vote. Only 52% of 18–34 year olds plan to vote in the referendum compared to 81% of adults over 55, whilst whereas 81% of students were likely to vote to stay in, up to 200,000 students could miss out on voting. This is clearly a problem of misrepresentation. The youngest generation are in the greatest need of political representation but they are the most pessimistic about and alienated from conventional channels of participation.
Within establishment politics, the youth do not sit at the table. Parliament practically laugh at us, but with our vote the issues that matter to us can be put up for serious discussion. The young believe that parliament do not represent our concerns but we must vote to give decision makers a mandate to raise the issues that matter to us. If we choose apathy, we forfeit our power to make change.
Innovative Bite the Ballot wants to be a campaign the leads the way on youth enfranchisement. It does not want to wait for change and is making waves now. They believe it is unfair that things which matter to young people — jobs, education, climate change — are being put on the back-burner by politicians. But by refusing to vote we ensure we are ignored. By inspiring young people to vote, Bite the Ballot hopes to create a critical and informed generation capable of participating in the decisions which shape and affect our future, creating a voice it is impossible to ignore.
An ex-teacher, unsettled when his students were perplexed by the basics of UK democracy, started the organization a few years back. Since, the organization has canvassed approximately 5000 opinions for a youth manifesto and launched an electoral registration campaign that shows no sign of losing momentum. Ahead of the EU refendum they have launched #TurnUpToVote, stoking debate and pleading for the youth vote.
There has never been a more important time for voter registration drives. In or out of Europe, the only way we can change things is by getting involved.