Generation Y and politics: a love/hate relationship

It seems that the majority of the 7.4 million young people living in the UK have fallen out of love with politics: a survey published by Populus in early March shows less than a third of eligible UK young voters (18-24) are planning to head to the polls on May 7, election day 2015.

Whether this is due to a generational lack of interest or is a response to the current government, is still unclear. Despite the low numbers of new voters, it seems Generation Y are really interested in political participation but have found more unconventional ways to express their views.

Bee Tajudeen is the SUARTS vice–president for London College of Communication and has recently been elected as the Students’ Union’s education officer. She thinks that young people are politically active even when if they might not realise this is the case: “I think the student movement’s participation in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is a fantastic example of young people taking part in politics. This year, thousands from across the country marched the streets of London and Brighton demanding the government make education free. If that isn’t a political statement I don’t know what is”, said Tajudeen.

The apparent loss of interest in politics seems partly to have stemmed from a lack of trust in politicians. According to a Eurobarometer opinion poll in August 2013, only 24 per cent of people had trust in the UK government. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was also accused of “conning” young voters to gain power by promising to freeze tuition fee costs; ultimately losing the respect and trust of the young voters he targeted. Students were then hit with a tuition fee increase following the last election which saw the £3,000 fee triple to £9,000 a year.

“Nick Clegg hurt young people [but] young people cannot allow the lies of one political leader to affect their political participation as they only hurt themselves by not getting their voices heard,” said Tajudeen.

In an attempt to minimise the loss of youth votes, The Mirror launched the #NoVoteNoVoice campaign in collaboration with UNITE to register one million voters who are among the groups in which the drop-off rates are a greater concern. They successfully surpassed their target, registering over 10 million voters since the start of the campaign in July 2014. Also, popular figures within youth culture such as SBTV creator Jamal Edwards, Tinie Tempah and Eliza Dolittle were enlisted for the BiteTheBallot video campaign to highlight why it is important to be heard and encourage voters to register.

Over the past two years, young voters’ interest in UK politics has been the subject of several surveys, including a 2014 poll by think tank, British Future, on first-time voters. Out of nearly two million interviewees, 58 per cent believed the coalition Government led by David Cameron “doesn’t understand them” because they are the last people politicians want to talk to. Furthermore, many feel that the Government has little interest in the needs of the young.  59 per cent stated that senior politicians pay more attention to big business and companies as opposed to the needs of young British citizens.

“To be honest politicians and their parties are not exactly relatable to the everyday adult individual, let alone young people.” Bee Tajudeen

“Why do young people not vote? I guess many factors come into play: socio-economics, lack of information or just generally not feeling the choices. To be honest, politicians and their parties are not exactly relatable to the everyday adult individual, let alone young people.” said Tajudeen.

After speaking to students and young people, it has become apparent that there is a divide amongst those willing to vote and those opting out, the main issues revolve around a lack of representation and a missing voice.

Callum, 19, said he won’t be voting as he doesn’t seen the point in voting for someone he doesn’t believe in anyway: “I don’t feel like any party really represents me and I don’t feel like my vote will make a difference. Nothing will change. They’ll do what ever they want anyway,” he said.

This opinion has been echoed across the country, but goes against the ever–growing group of young people who are willing to register and vote.

“We all need to vote. We moan about the conditions we are in, but as young people we do nothing about it. I want to be heard and I want change so I will be voting.” says Rebekah, a student at Leeds University.

Despite the general feeling of discontent perceived among Generation Y, their participation in May’s general elections could greatly impact the outcome of the election, as they make up 12 per cent of the UK population and account for 3.3 million voters.

“I will be going the polling station and making sure my voice is heard because women fought for this right, black people fought for my right, and therefore it is imperative that I use my right and take action!” said Tajudeen.

Featured image – Flickr: by veronica_sawyer via Flickr

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