Millennials have become the generational scapegoat for everything wrong in our society. Failing industries? Blame Millennials. Unemployment? Young people just can’t be bothered to get off their phones. The housing crisis? It’s all those entitled twenty-somethings wasting their money on avocado on toast brunches rather than saving up.
I for one, however, am immensely proud to be part of this generation. Quite unlike our reputation for being self-obsessed digital addicts, we are an increasingly active, politically-mobilised cohort willing to take a stand on issues we believe in. Take a look at the discussion on climate change – for years ignored and shoved under the table, it took a teenage girl and a group of students around the world to bring the topic back to mainstream attention. Less than a year before this, survivors of the Parkland shooting turned their protest against gun violence into one of the biggest mass demonstrations in American history.
And yet, our enthusiasm for political activism hasn’t always translated to turning up to vote. Over the last few years, young electoral participation has been frequently lacklustre. Take a look at the 2016 Brexit referendum - despite approximately 73% of 18-24-year-olds supporting Remain, just under two-thirds of young registered voters are thought to have cast their ballot (which, despite being higher than previous estimates and close to the expected average, is still considerably less than the 90% of registered over-65s). In the American presidential elections a few months later, youth turnout was even lower - around 50% - and lagged strongly behind that of Baby Boomers, who were overwhelmingly more supportive of Donald Trump. With the European elections coming up soon, the expectations for young voter participation in the UK are pretty poor, with only 19% of 18-24-year-old Brits turning up at the last set in 2014, compared to 53% of those aged 55 and over.
The dichotomy between our level of engagement on the streets and the polling booth has a variety of potential reasons. We’re busy, overworked and frankly disillusioned with political institutions, all factors which are likely to drive people away from turning up to vote. Add to this the fact that Brits generally haven’t come out in huge numbers to cast their ballots at the quinquennial European elections, which this year are all the more unexpected given our delayed Brexit date, and the outlook for young people isn’t looking very good.
But this time more than ever, it is vital for our generation to vote in this Thursday’s elections, as the results could have an enormous impact on our future.
Whichever people end up represent us at the European Parliament can have a pretty big influence in our lives. As such, given the turbulent times we’re facing both in the UK and the world at large, here are three major reasons why it is crucial for young people to vote in these elections.
To keep the far-right out of the European Parliament
Far-right populism is a growing scourge across the West, with ruthless opportunists playing on people’s genuine fears and economic grievances to whip up hatred against immigrants and other minorities. For some reason, such parties tend to do even better in the European elections than national ones. While the BNP have never been able to send an MP to Westminster, they managed to get Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons elected to the European Parliament in 2009. Likewise, the last European elections saw 24 Ukip MEPs voted to represent us in Brussels, making them the leading party. This year, not only do we have Farage back in full-force vying to keep a hold on his €8,000+ (pre-tax) monthly MEP salary, but we also have the joys of convicted fraudster and thug Tommy Robinson, alt-right YouTuber Carl Benjamin and anti-LGBT former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe among the many other candidates seeking a coveted European parliamentary seat. Whether it lurks inside the ranks of the polished, re-branded Brexit Party or in the more openly populist UKIP, the hard-right is a major political force in this election. As young people, we’re overwhelmingly against the vision presented to us by the various Farages and Robinsons. We champion diversity, welcome multiculturalism, and stand against intolerant, bigoted values. If we turn out in large numbers, we have the power to keep the far-right as far away from the European Parliament as possible.
To have our voices heard on Brexit
What will happen with Brexit is still a mystery to us all, and even more unclear is whether we’ll ever end up having a second referendum or “People’s Vote” to give our final say on the matter. Not only do the vast majority of young people think Brexit is a bad idea, but we also realise that leaving without a deal would be economically and socially disastrous. The prospect of a “WTO exit” becomes increasingly likely if the Brexit Party, currently topping the polls, ends up winning the largest share of votes in this European election, as Westminster will likely take such a victory as a strong political signal. As such, it’s essential that we have our voices heard on the matter by voting solidly pro-European party lists in our individual constituencies. Some may choose to overlook the Labour Party’s muddled Brexit policy and vote for some of its decidedly pro-EU lists, while others may point to RemainVoter.com for tactical voting based on Britain’s five overtly anti-Brexit major parties (Liberal Democrats, Change UK, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP). Whatever your decision, it’s so important to get out and vote for pro-European lists to send a powerful message and stop Farage’s new crew from topping the elections once again.
To fill the European Parliament with progressive, pro-environmental MEPs who care about our future
The future for our generation looks uncertain at best, and rather bleak from many points of view. If emissions of greenhouse gases continue at predicted rates, we’re looking at a temperature increase of 1.5°c by circa 2030-2052. Climate change arguably poses the biggest risk to our planet today, and requires a cross-border, transnational effort in order to be successfully tackled. What’s more, with high housing prices, an increasingly competitive job market, years of austerity policies and the dark legacy of the Great Recession, young people today are presented with significant economic concerns which make us anxious about many aspects of our future. In this time and age, it is incredibly important that we send progressive, pro-environmental MEPs to Brussels who have the interests of our generation at heart, and will use this huge platform to defend our needs and rights.
As the UK prepares itself to vote in these European elections this Thursday, it is imperative that as young people we don’t miss this huge opportunity to have our voices heard. This may very well be the last time we get to vote in these elections, and a large part of how the next years shape up will be down to us. Our future is finally in our hands - now is the time for us to take back control of it.