On Monday Ed Miliband announced that a future Labour government will ensure all 16 and 17 year olds will be able to take part in our democratic system and thus will be able to cast their votes from May 2016. Speaking at the #leaderslive event organised by the youth democracy organisation bite the ballot, Ed Miliband emphasized that the Labour party is committed to giving young people a voice.
Politicians are beginning to wake up to the fact that they can no longer silence the younger generations. For far too long young people in our country have been taken for granted with a view that they are not passionate, engaged or informed enough to shape it and its future.
One of the abiding memories from the recent historic Scottish referendum was seeing thousands of youngsters have their say on the future of Scotland. Allowing 16 and 17 year olds to take part in the democratic system played a major role in galvanizing the voices of the younger generation. A future Labour government will give the opportunity to 16 and 17 years olds to have their say by being able to cast their vote at the ballot box; just as they are allowed to join the army, be forced to pay tax, become a director of a company and even get married.
In the next 5 months we will see all the political parties reach out to as many different groups in order to build a mass support base that could be the deciding factor as to who governs our country. Be under no illusion, the youth vote will be crucial. Young people in this country could swing as many as 200 seats in the general election.
With the introduction of the new individual voter registration there is an onus amongst political parties to connect even more with young people. This not only means delivering a message that benefits us but also to raise awareness on how to register and place significance on the youth vote. Only 56% of people under the age of 24 are registered to vote. But if 5 million young people register their votes can you imagine the tremor it would cause in the halls of Westminster? Labour must be the party at the forefront on pushing voter registration amongst the youth, in particular in our universities and colleges and reaching out to disenfranchised young voters.
Labour has always been the party on the side of young people. The coalition cuts led by the Tory government to youth services have badly effected the aspirations of young people. The Lib Dems have never fully recovered from the lies it made in the run up to last general election on tuition fees. UKIP and the Green party are desperately trying to find a coherent message that touches the hearts and minds of young people. Labour cannot take the youth vote for granted and needs to stay ahead of the other parties by delivering bold policies. The policies announced by Ed Miliband on votes at 16 and increasing the number of apprenticeships for the forgotten 50% of young people are crucial examples of the type of boldness needed.
I myself have been involved in the leadership of Labour Students and Young Labour over the past years, and have witnessed at first hand the appreciation and value the party gives to young members. Our youth and student organisations are fine examples of how young people have shaped our movement. They have been an integral part of the campaigning machine within the party. Countless Labour clubs and Young Labour groups are changing their communities for the better by being at the forefront of social change through positive campaigning that has given our society a vibrant and youthful outlook. These coming months will see these younger members within our party out on doorsteps and be the ones to win over the rest of the country.
If a Labour government is triumphant come May, you can be sure the voices of the younger generation is never silenced again. Labour has always been the party that is committed to giving young people the opportunity to shape our country. We can only hope for a Labour victory so that our future generation has a fair and equal chance in society. We must be the ones to deliver.