"Who are you voting for, Louise? -_-" A status I posted on my Facebook page exactly five years ago. I remember the frustration well: I was politically engaged, ready to make my voice heard... and three months shy of 18. Whilst several of my friends went to the ballot box to vote for the first time, all I could do was tell people how I would have voted, if only my 'child' opinion mattered. More infuriating was that many more of my peers, who had the right vote, chose not to.
Unfortunately, this reflects a general trend throughout the UK. In 1992, the year I was born, 78% of 18-24 year olds voted. By 2010, this has plummeted to just 44% - meaning over half of the young people in this country did not elect their representative of the last five years. The reasons for this aren't entirely clear: are young people not voting out of apathy or out of protest?
Whilst I'm inclined to believe the latter - the Scottish independence referendum showed young people, even 16 and 17 year olds, want to be engaged with - in truth this is something we cannot prove. But either way, the problem needs a resolution.
If it's apathy, we need to teach the younger generation that their voices - and their votes - matter. We need to get them excited about politics the way I was (and still am!) and engage with them before they turn 18. Political parties cannot expect immediate interest from the day a person becomes an adult if no effort has been made prior to that. Further, we need to show that there are ways to be politically active outside of parliament and government - in charity groups, through campaigning and by trying to change something in society they consider to be wrong.
If it is a protest non-vote, young people need to be provided with an alternative. This may include highlighting non-mainstream parties that there is less information about. Or perhaps even encourage some to set up their own parties, or factions within parties. Surely of that 56%, there must be some common ideologies to band together around. Such parties might not come into power, but there's no reason that they cannot put items on the agenda.
Another alternative would be to emphasise the option that doesn't have a clearly defined box - spoiling your ballot. This would allow protest non-votes to be counted. Write an angry essay, scribble an expletive, scrawl your option - but for god's sake do something that isn't nothing.
This isn't about your duty as a citizen, nor is it about making sure those people who fought for your right to vote didn't do so in vain. It's about something far more than that. It's about getting politicians to recognise younger generations. It's about selecting your local representative. It's about mobilising for change.
"My vote won't matter, why should I bother?" That's exactly the attitude the political elite are counting on. It means they don't have to bother changing for you.
So if I may be so bold as to ask one thing of you, it's to take half an hour out of your Thursday to head to the polling station. Make your mark. Make your voice heard. Because en masse, that 56% can make a difference.