Tony Blair proclaimed in 1997 that his three main priorities in government were 'education, education, education.' This has not translated to an increase in votes from young people. Voter turnout between 1997 and 2005 amongst those aged 18-24 fell from an estimated 54.1% of this age range in 1997, down to 38.2% in 2005. By contrast, voter turnout amongst those who are aged over 65 has never fallen below 70% since 1964. As voters aged over 65 are more likely to vote for Conservative, Labour must build a consistent electoral base by widening their appeal to young voters.
These statistics become even more shocking when looking at recent EU elections where only 18% of young people voted. A recent report carried out by the European Youth Forum and International Institution for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, found that this lack of turnout was because young people felt ignored by politicians. Quite simply young people do not vote as politics and politicians do not seem relevant to them.
Labour are set to lower the voting age to sixteen if they are elected at the next election. This is an important first step in engaging young people with politics. There is an odd disconnect in that at 16 it is possible to pay taxes and join the army, yet young people are unable to take part in a democratic process that affects their daily life. If Labour are to align themselves as the party who are on the side of young people there can be no better start than allowing more young people to vote. Allowing more young people to vote will enable a shift in the policy of any party elected, and Labour must be ready for such a change.
If Labour are to extend the number of young people eligible to vote they must offer policy to engage them. It was correct to introduce compulsory citizenship classes - however, these are often poorly taught. If young people are to engage in politics, citizenship must be taught properly and extensively throughout the country. In terms of policy, with young people facing the spectre of both an increase in the cost of living and a lack of available full time work Labour must keep to its promise of a job guarantee. This should be coupled with a greater provision for training in the workplace. Labour should help small businesses provide additional training for young people they employ, to help their company to grow and to help young people ward off the prospect of returning to long term unemployment.
Labour need to look more fundamentally at what it can offer young people. Britain has an education system that is distinctly favoured toward the wealthiest in society. It may seem impossible in the current climate but Labour needs to offer hope to those who are not born in to wealth. Hope that they can achieve. Hope that there will be jobs for them to go to, hope that they will have access to free health care, hope that they will one day be able to own their own home, and hope more than anything, that after years of financial mismanagement 'things can only get better'. Labour was the party that led the way on issues such as sure start centres to ensure young people could get the best start in life. If Labour is to be successful with young people it must make the fundamental changes that mean young people can succeed, whilst offering policies that make young people buy into the Labour Party.
Labour must ensure that as many young people as possible are eligible to vote in the next general election. This is the demographic that are most likely to vote Labour - and the demographic who are most ignored by politicians.
Originally posted at jameslewiscoe.blogspot.co.uk