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Forget Ukip - Chase the Youth Vote

04/08/2014 16:51 BST | Updated 04/10/2014 10:59 BST

The last couple of years in British politics have been a bit like a trip to the Greyhound races. We've got the purple rabbit that is the Ukip voter, and the big three political leaders rabidly chasing after it, extolling huge amounts of energy and resources trying to out-do each other. The result has been an increasingly isolated Britain, with few friends in Europe, a lowered international standing, and a divided home front. As deplorable as the sport is, for the sake of metaphor, and the country, I would like to suggest that we change the rabbit our politicians are so eager to catch.

This is not to say that people's legitimate concerns over immigration should be ignored, but it does mean that the main parties shouldn't be tripping over themselves to out-do UKIP, allowing the far-right to set the debate, and dance to Farage's tune. Instead politicians should be focusing on one of the most neglected demographics, giving what will soon be the people running society a sense of hope and inclusion - regardless of their country of origin. Politicians instead, should be chasing young voters.

But is this all just wishful, whimsy ideology, or is it actually an idea of real substance? What would political parties have to gain by chasing younger voters rather than what appears to be a large amount of the population that want immigration to be curbed? And what would the result be for the country?

There are currently more than 6.7million people aged 18-25 in the UK. To put this in a bit of perspective in terms of electoral success, that's triple the gap there was between Labour and Conservatives in 2010, and more than 6 times the amount of votes that UKIP obtained.

This becomes even more interesting when you realise that roughly only just over half of these 6.7million turned out to vote - so we've got more than three million young people not convinced or bothered enough to pick a side yet. Convincing these would have been enough for Labour to very comfortably beat the Tories, and would have compensated for Ukippers three times over.

The fact that comparatively few young people turn out to vote shouldn't be a reason for political parties to neglect them in their policy formation - it should be a reason to do the opposite. These are people that your opponents have yet to win over - if other parties aren't bothering to go after young people then you'll have very little competition. Instead of being made to feel disenfranchised and powerless by the political system, due to their historically low turn-out, young people should feel incredibly empowered, as they're turning out in force for a party could literally win an election. Parties should be falling over themselves to convince young voters that they're the right choice.

Electorally then, it seems like going after young voters rather than Ukippers is a sound idea, but the merits don't just stop there. 18-25 is supposed to be the average age that most people form their core political philosophies, and probably the most likely to explore and be receptive to alternate ideas.

Surely this is exactly the age when parties should be trying to persuade people of their message? If you wait until later, you'll probably have to blast through a large amount of ideological debris first, making your job much harder. If instead you make the effort to engage with and direct some policy towards younger generations, and if you keep your integrity, you might just have an activist for life.

Perhaps the main parties are already privy to this wisdom? Their recent track record suggests otherwise. Tripled tuition fees from the Conservatives, proposals to scrap JSA for 18-21 year olds from Labour, and an ever-growing pile of broken promises from the Lib Dems. One could be forgiven for thinking that the main parties don't want young people to vote at all.

We are reaping the effects of a country that has focussed on the short-term for far too long. A shift to chasing the votes of young people, people that will have to be on this planet for most likely several more decades, would be one way in which we could begin to address this and once more put long-term prosperity above short-term gains.

Could you imagine a political party that actually tried to address the widespread issues of apathy and disengagement that cripples our democracy and perpetuates a 'business as usual' style of politics? A party that believes education is a right and should be enjoyable, rather than a privilege with a huge pile of debt attached that is simply 'training' for an equally boring job? Or maybe even a party that actually plans for the long-term, implementing policy that they hope will reap rewards for society extending long beyond their own term?

This is what chasing the young voters of Britain would look like - would this not be a much more pleasant and beneficial discourse to immerse Westminster in? And of course, there is one party that is already doing it, with policy aimed at scrapping tuition fees, injecting democracy back into our politics, and tackling the looming disasters of inequality and climate change, all resulting in a 70% surge in youth membership in 4 months. Looks like the Greens might have beaten the rest of them to it.

With thanks to Amelia Womack, Green Party Deputy Leader candidate, for planting the seed of the idea for this article