So, I’m sure I need to tell precisely no one that Brexit happened this weekend; it’s all over the world news, and I’m almost certain it’s the first time in history that the whole world is laughing except the British. But I’m not going to go into the ins and outs (no pun intended) of that result or the aftermath. What I want to address is a far older complaint.
One thing that those within the UK know that perhaps those outside don’t know is that the UK’s young overwhelmingly supported remaining within the EU, but were outvoted by gran and grandad, much to the anger and disappointment of the voting youth. I can see why they’re angry – whilst I’m not suggesting that the older vote is in any way diminished or even unanimous, it’s a bit odd that the young people that voted to remain will be the ones living with the decision for so long and yet can do nothing to affect the change they wanted to see. It’s kinda sad.
But almost as soon as they were published, the voices of the young people who did vote were dismissed entirely because “if they really cared, why did so few young people vote?”.
I would like to point out that the survey was conducted on young people who did actually vote, so it’s unfair to dismiss their opinion for something so totally out of their control. As someone who voted and is under 24, I’d like to say that I don’t appreciate that. I’d also like to point out that I share the frustration of the whole nation that so few young people in this country engage with politics of any kind – not just this referendum but all of the previous general elections in my lifetime in which the youth vote has continually declined.
But, perhaps more importantly, as a young person I TOTALLY understand why they don’t engage with politics. In fact I openly admit that I feel that pull towards not voting at each point that it’s offered to me. My main motivator for voting, if I’m honest, is the knowledge that so many died to give me the chance to do it.
The motivation not to vote is something I picked up on before I was even eligible. When I was 16, still doing my GCSEs and totally unable to have a say in the country, the 2010 General Election was a popular a talking point for me and my friends than that shitty movie Twilight and it’s never ending sequels. We quickly found that when the country goes to the polls, politicians come out in force to tell the young how much their vote matters, and to make sexy promises like the one Nick Clegg made. You remember, don’t you? The one he immediately backtracked on, issued a non-apology for two years later, and effectively ruined his career over. But I guess we at least got a cool song from it… Not much of a silver lining when I look at my £46,500+ of student debt but it’s something I suppose.
But there you go – I’d learned already not to trust the promises that politicians make when we go to the polls. Over the years that followed, as I passed into voting eligibility, I quickly learned other things too. Mainly that politicians only care about the young voters when we’re at the polls – the rest of the time they honestly couldn’t give a shit what we think, even if we are disproportionately affected by their policies. Take for example the proposed policy to cut various benefits for under 25s in order to save money. Sure, they work shit jobs in a shit economy where they aren’t guaranteed any hours at all, but that just means they don’t pay enough in as far as we’re concerned so fuck ’em. They should go back to living with mum and dad, even if there aren’t any jobs with mum and dad and mum and dad both live in a cemetary or something. What about the so-called-but-not-actually-accurate ‘Living Wage’? I personally thought the idea of a Living Wage was fabulous, signing numerous petitions to see it. I don’t recall having ever said “WOW, this is so fab, please keep me out of it!” Sure, I appreciate that maybe they can’t otherwise afford to do it (and I know they certainly can’t now the economy is up shit creek), but voting it in anyway is basically a declaration that MPs are more than willing to sacrifice living standards for under 25s to suit basically everyone else. Cheers, guys.
None of this was stuff I’d voted for, but I believed in democracy and I’d naively hoped that politicians would spare a thought for us before plowing ahead with their various policies. But every policy that was announced since I became eligible to vote seemed to have a small print that excluded us as a demographic. It’s hard not to wonder what the point is in voting when you sort of know that’s going to be the case.
The point is, politicians can’t ignore the young and throw them under the bus continually and then turn around and ask them to trust them or even help them when it’s time to make a decision about running the country. If you want young people to get involved, involve them or at least acknowledge they exist more than once every 5 years. And when you want to know why under 25s didn’t vote en masse to stop Brexit, remind yourself that they’d been taught from before they could even vote that their opinion didn’t really matter anyway.