Hey. Don’t change the tab. I know you’re tired of patronising speeches explaining the importance of voting while you struggle through a joyless education to prepare for an equally joyless life. But this won’t take five minutes. Promise.
Let’s begin with Brexit. A YouGov poll taken after the EU referendum found that of every person aged 18-24 eligible to vote, only 36% cast their ballot. Of that exclusive group, 72% voted remain. The conclusion? This imbecilic act of self-destruction may have been averted if more of us had taken the effort to jot a cross on a little slip of paper.
However, our generation wasn’t the first to skip the polling stations. According to a 2016 study by the University of Warwick, youth turnout rates in political elections have plummeted from 66% in 1992 to 49% in 2010. Meanwhile, voting turnouts among the over 55’s remain at a steadfast 75%.
Why is this? By its very nature, voting is inconvenient, frustrating and time-consuming. Registering is fairly simple. You can do it online over a latte. Submitting a ballot, on the other hand, drains your energy like a leech.
Consider how Election Day has been held on a Thursday since 1935, all because parliament concluded Friday drinks would render the general population too hungover to make an informed decision about their nation’s future. 70 years hence, we are still wasting our lunch hours queueing in community centres where the air is rancid with the perspiration of a thousand strangers.
For many people I know, all this hassle makes voting intolerable. It’s bad enough just leaving the house. But older people, the very demographic you think would want to maximise every tick of time left to them, have developed habits through the years which mean an hour of waiting isn’t an inconvenience as much as a routine. Their superior boredom thresholds are why they win.
Then there’s the question of which candidate to support. Does it even make a difference? So many of us have become disillusioned with party politics, convinced the sole ideological distinction between Labour and Tory is the colour of their handsome ties. Others lack the knowledge to confidently participate. These challenges never get any easier. All you can do is research and get behind the person you believe is most competent and, ideally, sane.
Still, the physical process of voting is getting easier. Voters now have the option to submit a ballot early by post or to elect a trusted friend to vote in their place. It’s convenient, but hardly the hi-tech solution one would expect of the world’s fifth largest economy. Web Democracy, a pressure group, believes online voting is the next step. In fact, they optimistically predict the ability to vote on a smartphone would catapult the dismal youth turnout to a heady 70%.
Optimistically, however, is the operative word. Forget that web servers will never be secure enough to prevent sabotage or fixing. This issue is not simply about convenience. We can always find time for the things which really matter, be it a long distance phone call to our parents or a Walking Dead marathon. A lack of time is never the problem. We just can’t be fussed.
I get it. Growing up under a government whose target demographic is fifty years older than you is a long hike through the mud. The baby boomers were practically bribed to pursue a degree with low fees and fat bursaries. Our generation will be neck deep in £100,000 of debt before we rent our first overpriced bedsit. It’s natural and to an alarming extent, fashionable, to think nothing we can do or say will ever matter.
And that is what you call a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ever got so anxious the night before an exam that you didn’t get a wink of sleep, and came in so exhausted you couldn’t answer a single question? Not voting is a bit like that. Abstaining because you are certain the Prime Minister will never listen isn’t remotely rebellious or progressive. It only silences you. Then Britain will bow to its most vocal citizens, the middle aged and elderly whose prejudices are as firmly set as congealed tapioca. Your anxieties, your needs, will be overlooked like footnotes in a particularly heavy history book.
So, considering how we have almost nothing else to lose, dare to imagine, for one beautiful moment, what could happen if the youth of the nation took a concerted effort to make things better. You do not need to riot or even necessarily demonstrate, although that is a tactic we should deploy in the coming days of pantomime politics. I mean by participating in our democracy. If the government recognises that we are interested in our country’s future, they will be unable to justify their ignorance. And if our elected representatives refuse to listen, we will exercise our democratic right to vote for someone who will. This power is within us all and can it can reshape the land we tread on.
I’m not saying we should turn our country into an ageist hinterland which caters only for the well-toned and virile. The UK is not solely comprised of students, and it’s vital that the interests of our elders are also listened to and respected. Our goal should be to readdress the balance not by inciting further division, but by finding it in ourselves to actually give a damn. That is how change begins. And it starts with us.
Interested? Head to https://www.gov.uk/voting-in-the-uk/overview for more information on voting and how to register to vote in the next election.