THE BLOG

Now Is the Time for Young People to Revitalise Our Democracy

20/05/2015 11:18 BST | Updated 19/05/2016 10:59 BST

Look, opinion polls proved about as accurate at reflecting our political views before a general election as the Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG Party. But when you consider what young people really wanted, I'll eat my hat if the Conservative government comes any closer over the next five years.

One poll result we can't ignore is that a crushing majority of first-time voters did not get the outcome they voted for at this election - not to mention us 16- and 17-year-olds apparently too young and impressionable to cast a ballot.

Given that only 37 per cent of the entire voting public gave David Cameron's clique their mandate to govern alone, you have to worry about how well the all-Conservative cabinet will represent our opinions.

As ever, the system is skewed even more severely against young people, with research showing youth support for the Tories at less than a quarter. The proportion of us who don't endorse the government slumps further, of course, if you count the hundreds of thousands of under-24s who don't vote.

Politicians might dismiss the pollsters as wannabe academics with receding hairlines, but the so-called winners of this election must recognise that our generation remains hugely underwhelmed by their ideas.

As the Conservatives finalise a Queen's speech that threatens the housing benefits young people need, the human rights we have grown up with and the European status many of us cherish - along with failing to change the electoral system, voting age, tuition fees and counterproductive exam reforms - you may wonder why more of us aren't out on the streets in protest.

But the good news is, a chance for young people to help redefine the Labour Party or support a new progressive force at Westminster in the SNP, on top of using this election result to challenge the legitimacy of narrow-minded parties, means that effective forms of opposition are only getting stronger.

That has to include engaging constructively with people who have different views rather than starting class wars and negative campaigns. Clearly, our system can't handle divisive politics - it will take communication and collaboration for any government to represent more than 37 per cent of us.

For politics to enthuse our liberal and diverse younger generation, the Conservatives need to realise that many of their voters don't want ideological policies and simply believed that Cameron has the better economic plan for Britain. And Labour should tap into the obvious anti-austerity sentiment without alienating the better-off people who would still like a fairer society.

As long as supporters of both sides can learn from an election that damaged our democracy and begin to promote inclusive politics, even those who are disappointed with the result should be excited about answering big questions that this government will face about the federal and European future of the UK.

For one thing, we could use the worrying anti-Westminster feeling in Scotland to push for modernisation that will allow Parliament to serve our generation across Britain as well as keeping us together. Some parliamentary customs are so old that they belong in a museum and must go, whilst more devolution to all four corners of the country would bring politics closer to the people.

Much as replacing the Human Rights Act risks putting our civil liberties at peril, we could also lobby our MPs and join pressure groups such as Liberty in attempts at using the debate to make a positive difference to our rights law.

Thirdly, it would be a weird anomaly if the voting age isn't lowered to 16 for the EU referendum as it was for the poll on Scottish independence. And more generally, why not use the upcoming vote on our membership as an opportunity to blue-sky where we want Britain to stand within the world, confirm our commitment to liberal values and encourage political participation?

We should have a lot of time, therefore, for the SNP's Mhairi Black, the 20-year-old student who has just become Britain's youngest MP since 1667. It was the Scottish independence referendum campaign which prompted her to leave her job in a local chip shop and stand up for her beliefs.

Some young people might want to follow her example and join a political party: now is the time to influence their direction, particularly with the upcoming Labour and Liberal Democrat leadership elections. Meanwhile, others my age will surely want to help their community by raising awareness and funds for growing challenges like youth poverty or child mental health.

And we should all hear Black's inclusive message to voters: "Whether you voted for the SNP or not, and whatever your views are on Scotland's future, I will seek to represent you and everyone in this constituency to the very best of my ability."

The "Baby of the House of Commons" speaks for most young people, I think, in urging for a more co-operative democracy that responds to the many and not the few. It's this accessible kind of politics that can turn five damned years into a period of progress, although it's up to us to make it happen.