Britain is currently in the midst of a fascinating election season, and whilst the politicians and other members of society seem to be taking it very seriously (and so they should), the above picture may be seen as indicative of how many of my fellow young people perceive the current election campaign.
With just under 2 weeks until the country decides to vote for the next party to lead the government, the battle to Number 10 Downing Street has never been fiercer. But with many expecting the fight to really only be contested between the Conservative’s David Cameron and Labour’s Ed Miliband, there is no doubt that there has been an explosion of choice of other political parties for the public to choose from, hence making the likelihood of one party winning this year’s election outright increasingly unlikely.
Now of course Britain has always had a range of political parties available to them, but it is no secret that traditional British politics have historically only ever truly centred around the Conservatives and the Labour Party. Before the 2010 election, Labour, under the leadership of Tony Blair and later Gordon Brown, held office for 13 years, preceded by 18 years of Conservative rule. Despite the existence of alternative parties to the established two, the precedent always set by the British people on polling day underlined the two parties’ dominance in British politics. Indeed, so ingrained was this way of thinking that for so long a vote for a minority party was described as a “waste of a vote”.
The election held on the 6th May 2010 resulted in the first hung parliament in the UK in 36 years, with neither of the main parties being able to secure a majority vote. The outcome was the birth of a coalition between the Conservatives and the country’s third biggest party at the time, the Liberal Democrats. This sometimes tumultuous but multi-diverse partnership seems to have ushered in a new period of change into British politics. Any member of the Labour, Conservatives and even the Lib Dem parties who were hoping to restore some “normality” in this year’s election in the form of a ruling majority party will surely be disappointed. It seems that, after witnessing an unlikely coalition government which in the past may have been considered impossible, the British public have little appetite to return to the “good ol’days” of single party politics. People want change. People, it would appear, want something different.
Not only do we have the 3 established parties all running for Downing Street, but we now have become increasingly and consciously aware of the Green party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru and UKIP (UK Independence Party)…and their real potential for a coalition relationship in the very likely event of a hung Parliament. Whilst the SNP is only open to votes from Scotland and Plaid Cymru can only be voted by people living in Wales, there can be no doubt that the mainstream parties are looking at all possible permeations of a coalition and actively combing through manifestos of the “little parties” to see where alignments could be made post – election day.
Political pedigree means nothing anymore. The longevity of a party is no longer a selling point in attracting future votes; in fact with more young politically aware people, the opposite seems to be true. Amongst my twenty-something year old friends and peers, the greater number of years a party has spent in government is now often used against them as evidence that they are out of touch with the views and needs of the common man and the young. Now, whether out of curiosity for the unknown or perhaps frustration for the way things have always been, we are turning to alternative parties with different ideas to the ones we have heard for so long from Britain’s two biggest parties. Furthermore, greater exposure of these parties in this increasingly technological age, either on their websites, through social media or through more mainstream avenues like the Leaders’ Debates on television (thanks Mr Cameron for the ingenious idea to insist on extending the invitation to beyond the usual suspects), has helped to bring the British public gently out of the view that they have to deal with what they’re given, and more into the view that they have control into what the outcome of this general election is.
And that’s great for my fellow young people! Greater choice often means greater control, and if there’s anything we want most of all, it’s the ability and the choice to control our own lives, or at least the decisions that affect it. For too long so many young people have felt disenfranchised with British politics, believing that policies created by political parties are seldom created to address their needs, and so unfortunately we have the lowest polling day turn-outs across all demographics. According to the British Election Study, the proportion of registered 18-24 year olds showing up to cast their vote has been consistently below every other age group since the 1970s. Another study found that of those in the youngest age group of 16-24 year olds- a whopping 42.4% said that they had no interest in politics whatsoever. That’s an entire generation lost in the election process, our voices lost.
Many young people simply do not trust the politicians of established parties, believing that they will say whatever is necessary to gain their votes, before doing a U-turn and completely abandoning them once they get into power (Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dem’s ultimate betrayal of young people on tuition fees back in 2010 would have done nothing to dispel this belief).
So the question is, has the introduction of a broad and diverse range of political parties to the forefront of British politics done anything to help engage our youth?
It seems so.
A greater spectrum of political parties means a greater chance for policies to be created that specifically tackles the worries of young people, such as the issues of rising housing prices, exorbitant rent prices, a perceived lack of jobs and climate change. Groups like the Green Party, who advocate for environmentally friendly policies, and UKIP, who seeks to address the issue of a lack of jobs by curtailing the rate of immigration, speaks to the worries and the conscience of young people in a way that the two established parties of Labour and the Conservatives have continuously failed to for decades.
This greater exposure of choice that young people have at their disposal, coupled with the ease and convenience of sharing political thoughts, content and campaigns through social media, have all contributed to an historic election campaign that has seemed to slowly but surely interest and ultimately include young people in a way that I definitely haven’t seen before.
And with the increase in choice, comes an increased likelihood of another coalition government. I believe that new voters like me no longer have a need for or want to see a majority, singular government. With increasing choice in important things like how we eat, how we work and how we live our lives, why should our politics be any different? The true test in terms of whether or not this election has succeeded in engaging young people will come in the figures on polling day.
See you on 7th May folks!
Ebony is a 2:1 law graduate from the University of East Anglia.