View from the Street: The Generation Game

Ellie Nicholson

View from the Street: The Generation Game

When I try to think back to what sparked my initial interest in politics, I remember something a lecturer told my class in one of our first seminars. She explained that while ultimately we were here to get a degree, we would get the most out of our time at university by engaging in open and meaningful dialogue with our peers. With this she stressed the importance of listening to others’ opinions and perspectives, which in turn impact and shape our own.
 
In retrospect, I have always been socially liberal but in the past I definitely chose to turn a blind eye to certain issues when they didn’t affect me personally. Conversing with others, from completely different backgrounds to my own, allowed me to become more socially aware and informed as a voter. I soon learnt that bipartisan conversation enriches you in a number of ways, and that diversity of perspective adds value to society as a whole.
 
During my three years at university there were two general elections, which came about in very different circumstances. The difference in political engagement that I saw in both myself and my friends in these two elections was significant.
 
Political disengagement amongst the young has always been an issue within society. Voter turnout levels in the 2015 general election were critically low and seemed to indicate that 18-24 year olds were a generation alienated from electoral politics, disengaged from the political process and choosing to reject a system they had little faith in.
 
Two years later and there is significant progress. An estimated 64% of 18-24 year olds voted in the recent election, according to an Ipsos MORI analysis - a huge increase on the 43% in 2015 - and it is interesting to consider what prompted this. Reflecting on Ed Miliband’s campaign, it was moderate in its ideas, it was traditional and it was expected. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto was bold and progressive and he repeatedly refused to compromise on his policies. Before I continue, I should say that this article is not intended to pledge my allegiance to Corbyn. Rather, it hopes to highlight an appetite for social change that I, and I’m sure many others seek, especially among younger voters.
 
Whether it was his personality or his policies, Corbyn appealed to the youngest demographic. This was evident to me when I attended one of his many campaign stops in Leeds in mid-May. Originally, organisers had intended Corbyn to address a small crowd inside the venue. However, a turn-out of more than 3,000 people resulted in the closure of surrounding roads, and Corbyn standing on a bench with a megaphone in the middle of the crowd.
 
So often today, we experience things through a screen. We observe events rather than participate in them and I think that Corbyn’s style of campaigning helped people to feel part of something. As I looked around the crowd, I saw a number of people who I knew as Labour supporters, party members and self-confessed Corbynites. But also, many people that I knew were affiliated to other political parties, and others who had never expressed an interest in politics before.
 
It appeared to me that whether people agreed with Corbyn or strongly opposed his ideas, by bringing young people to the top of the agenda, he increased political participation amongst us. He spoke passionately about tuition fees, mental health funding, the cost of housing and zero-hours contracts, all issues that directly affect young people. He got young people talking. If you feel the political system ignores you then it is equally as easy to ignore it. But if the issues resonate, you are all the more motivated to participate in the democratic process.
 
Ipsos MORI has suggested that high turnout levels in the most recent election were driven by young and minority voters. Whether you love him or hate him, Corbyn made the young a priority and they reacted. Most importantly, the young demographic can now compete with the others that make up the electorate. Looking forward, I hope that this will have a profound impact on the way in which political parties target younger voters when drawing up policies, because they just can’t afford to ignore them any longer.