THE BLOG

Politics Won't Change Until Young People Change It

05/06/2017 12:34 BST | Updated 05/06/2017 12:34 BST
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On 8th June the country will once again go to the polls to decide what kind of Government we want. But if you are under 25, the odds are high that you won't make it to your local polling station.

Check the facts: according to Ipsos Mori, in the 2010 General Election voter turnout among young people aged 18-24 was only 44%, compared to turnout of 76% among the over-65s. In the 2015 General Election youth turnout was estimated at 43%, with the over 65s at 78%. The EU Referendum was a special case - it's estimated that youth turnout rose to 64%. But these figures still fall short of the pensioner vote, at over 90% turnout.

The numbers on political engagement are equally disturbing. According to a Hansard audit of political engagement in 2015 about half of you say you are interested in politics. But you are much more likely to be white, male and middle class. And only 32% of under 25s say they are interested in politics compared to 51% of over 25s.

We can always do more to support young people's engagement in politics - as Vice Chancellor I have implemented student voter registration and I regularly host high-profile political speakers on campus. People like me have a responsibility to do what we can to make political culture youth-friendly. But politics will not change until young people change it.

You might feel that your vote won't make a difference to who gets elected in your constituency. It's rare (though not impossible!) for one vote to make a difference, but if the many thousands of young people who currently don't vote were to turn up on Thursday we might be surprised at the shift in the political battle lines. At the moment it appears that whether young people vote in large numbers will determine whether we have a Tory landslide or a much more balanced and responsive Government.

Voting is about far more than the person who gets elected on the day. Behind the scenes, day-in day-out in Westminster, MPs of all parties are talking to colleagues in tea rooms, on the floor of Parliament and in their constituencies. And what they are talking about is what the voters think, what they are concerned about, how they will feel about policies on health, the economy, defence, education, immigration, the environment - all the big issues that shape our society. MPs respond to people who vote. If proportionately more older people than younger people vote, their interests will hold greater sway. That's how it works.

You might not be keen on your constituency MP's political party. But if you write them a letter or show up their office, they are obliged to pay attention to you. Simply by casting your vote, you gain the potential for influence not only on the day of the election, but during the whole term of the Parliament that follows that election.

In the EU Referendum of 2016 majority Remain-voting young people were outvoted by the older pro-Leave population. Britain is on course for Brexit, likely to be the most radical political shift for a generation. The terms of Brexit will be decided in the next two years - shaping the future that young people will inherit. By voting, you make your opinion count in that debate.

You might feel that none of the political parties represent your views, or that you don't know enough about the issues to decide who to vote for. Voting doesn't require expertise, and it doesn't require you to be passionate about a candidate. It's a rational balancing act, assessing the candidates based on the imperfect information you have. If you feel strongly about it, spoil your ballot. But show up.