Young people and politics

By Victoria Lincoln

The new academic year is here so it’s time to set some goals and they should include getting involved in a student cause, political party or association group. Durham students have been accused of being apathetic and, to be honest, we haven’t been doing ourselves any favours in debunking that assumption. However, recent elections highlight that if we don’t get involved, we’re going to continue to be a marginalised generation.

Let’s recap our two most recent elections – the General Election and the EU referendum. There is quite a bit of confusion about the youth turnout in the General Election earlier this year. Initially, some commentators put the youth turnout as high as 72%, but this was inflated. A YouGov poll put the youth vote (18-24) at less than 60%. However, the 57% turnout in 2017 is better than the 43% in the 2015 General Election.  The 2017 election signalled some changes in how young people voted. The young vote shared for the Conservatives and UKIP fell and increased for the Liberal Democrats and Labour. The latter’s increase in the share of young voters was massive.

The change in how we vote and how many of us vote in the last election is tied to the EU referendum last year.  The LSE places youth turnout around 64% for last year’s EU referendum. YouGov data suggests that 75% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted to remain. Many young voters feel their voices aren’t heard, which has created this bitter cycle. We feel we’re not listened to so we don’t engage, then we lose vote share and fall down the political agenda and it enhances the original feeling of disenfranchisement.

Even when politicians try and bribe us into voting for them like Corbyn’s recent promise to relieve all student debt, it ends up empty promises. Corbyn might have prescribed an irresponsible policy, but at least he can connect with young people which is more than can be said for Theresa May. Now is a difficult time to be a Young centre-right Conservative, as the only leadership the party is offering are UKIP-lite. To a lesser extent people who associate as centre-left could feel the same way about Corbyn’s leadership.

In this polarised climate, Durham’s political societies need support more than ever. Political groups often attract people who have the same views. Sometimes this makes these societies’ look exclusive. However, these societies cannot change or diversify without new students joining them and bringing fresh talent and debate. It should be another exciting year for student politics so get involved.

Image by Joanna Penn via flickr 

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