THE BLOG

Engaged Youth Must Bring Other Young People Into Politics

06/05/2015 18:58 BST | Updated 05/05/2016 10:59 BST

You will have read this before - not enough young people are voting. Statistics show that in the 2010 General Election only 54% of 18-24 year-olds were registered to vote and only 44% of them actually voted. By not voting young people are the easiest group to ignore. This has to change and I believe that it is the young people who are already engaged in politics that need to reach out to those furthest away from politics and bring them in.

Let's take a step back, why is it important that more young people get involved in politics and cast their vote in this election? The reason is very simple - it's a power thing! Politics is about the issues we care about in our community, our country and the world. Whether that is the presence of youth facilities in our communities, the cost and quality of higher education, our ability to find a job or the cost of renting; it is through politics that we have the power to make a difference on these issues.

It is clear that young people care about issues too. Some of us have volunteered overseas on the International Citizen Service programme, others have picked out a single issue and campaigned on that. The problem is we don't always make the link that the issues we care about are political.

This is not something I always understood either. In fact when I first signed up to Facebook I delightfully typed in 'couldn't care less' for the political section. I did that not because I genuinely did not care about politics but because I didn't know anything about it. I thought it didn't matter or at least didn't affect me. I was cynical towards the political process because I thought it was about petty disagreements, name calling and tearing each other down instead of lifting our country up.

But then I realised through discussions on the issues I cared about that my views were political and that choosing not to engage with the political process did not exempt me from the effects of political decisions, but rather made me more vulnerable to them because I didn't have a say on those decisions. That is what we need to communicate to those young people furthest away from politics. The issues they care about are political and the decisions that are made on those issues affect their daily lives - whether they choose to engage with them or not.

While we're reaching out to those young people furthest away from politics, we need to also offer them the possibility of a positive alternative vision for what our politics can be if more young people get involved. As idealistic young people, we have the power, energy and idealism to bring about a different kind of politics; a politics that transcends petty party politics and brings people together to tackle the issues we all care about with a positive vision for our future. A vision of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort. A politics that is about all of us. I don't want young people to believe in my ability to bring about this vision for our politics - I want them to believe in theirs' because that is what makes a difference.

Achieving this vision starts with young people believing that their vote counts. They need to know that what they have to say matters and should be listened to, because one person, one vote and one generation really can make a difference. In the 2010 General Election over 76% of people aged 65+ voted. What did they get? Free bus travel, free TV license, free prescriptions, winter fuel allowance and many more. Meanwhile as only 44% of young people voted, we have seen Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) taken away, tuition fees tripled and youth services slashed - is it all related? Yes!

Bite the Ballot has a very good analogy for this - imagine you have 1 spare ticket for a night out, and two people are asking you for it. One person you see all the time and the other person you barely ever see. Who is it easier to let down? The answer is pretty clear. Now ask the same question to politicians - who is it easier to let down? The people who voted you in power or the people who don't even turn out to vote?

To change this we need those of us who are already passionate about democratic engagement to encourage those young people furthest away from politics to become a vote worth winning. On the 7th of May young people need to believe that their vote counts and what they have to say matters and should be listened to. They need to know that they really can make a difference on the issues they care about. It might not change things immediately but it is where we start that matters. Change doesn't just roll in on the wheels of inevitably. It happens because people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time. As energetic and idealistic young people who care passionately about the issues that affect us, we need to lead that change.