Friday, 17 April 2015

Why should I vote?

This is a bit of a departure from the norm today, but with the General Election less than three weeks away (and having an avid interest in politics,), I wanted to broach the subject of voting, specifically amongst young people.

I've always been interested in politics; my dad was involved in the Labour Party for most of my childhood, and was elected as a local councillor when I was in primary school. I remember thinking as a very small child how cool it would be if he became Prime Minister, and one of my most vivid childhood memories is having to go and collect him when he was bitten by a dog whilst letterbox campaigning.

This followed by a natural interest in modern history at school, especially modern political history, and this continued to my A Levels when I chose to study the Liberal Party as my individual assessment. I then went on to study history at University, and the theme continued, ending with my study of the American perspective on the Guatemalan coup during the latter half of the twentieth century as my dissertation.

It's fair to say then, that I've had more of an interest in politics than most, and so I've always found it incredibly important to vote, even in the local elections. Whilst I have voted Labour in all the elections I've been eligible for, I'm much more interested in whether or not you vote, rather than who you vote for. I've been lucky, all through school and university, to be friends with at least a couple of people who have a similar interest in politics and the state of the world, and so I never really understood when people said that young people didn't vote.

In September 2013, I moved from Manchester to Brighton, and started a new job working in the travel industry. Most of the people I work with (and am friends with) are aged between 20-27 (with the exception of the managers), and I was very surprised to discover that most had little or no knowledge about politics, and no interest or desire to know anything. They felt distanced and disenchanted by the political system; it's not taught in schools unless you're already interested in it, and once they'd passed a certain point, didn't feel they could understand enough to make it worth it. Several have expressed to me that they don't want to vote if they don't understand what they're voting for, and they don't have the desire to sit down and decipher the difference between the parties.

I have to say, I completely understand. Even having been interested in politics for the majority of my life, I still struggle to understand the difference between the main three (I think they do sometimes!), and the politics-speak which envelops all the policy wording and election broadcasts looks like gobbledegook. Friends have also argued that, even if you vote for someone because they've promised something, there's no guarantee that they'll actually follow through with this if elected, as proved by Nick Clegg in 2010. It's hard to have trust in the politicians, and to understand who they're really trying to support.

My generation has been struck more than most in the past few years. I left Sixth Form just as the economy crashed in 2007/2008, went to University and then entered the job market just as everyone else was starting to panic. Whilst I'd been studying, businesses had entered liquidation, people had been made redundant, and quite frankly there were very few jobs available. As you can see from previous posts, I worked for free for a year, and then on minimum wage in retail and catering for another couple of years before I had to take a huge risk (and take on another £2000 debt) in order to move 300 miles away from home for a job that led to a career. I certainly wasn't the only one out of my group of friends (and some are still in the same situation), and unpaid internships and zero-hour contracts were the norm.

Even now, whilst I'm on the way to where I want to be, I'm stuck with thousands of pounds of debt from the past 4 years, which I don't expect to pay off until I'm in my late twenties/early thirties. I have rented since I was 18, and have no idea how on earth I'll ever get on the property ladder. My rent at the moment is £450/month, which is extortionate. I pay a small amount into a pension (even though we'll all be working late into our old-age), but have no other savings, and nothing to fall back on should something go wrong. Again, I'm certainly not on my own with this.

With the younger generation paying the debts of our parents' generation, in my mind we should be even more active in ensuring we elect those who will improve our future and not repeat past mistakes. Instead, people are apathetic and angry, but not enough to do anything about it. They've lost their faith in the government, and it shows. In the Scottish referendum in 2013, around 80% of the electorate voted, which was incredible! In 2010, only 65% of the population of the UK voted for the new government, resulting in a hung parliament, and a Tory/Lib Dem coalition. History seems set to repeat itself in 2015, with no party having a clear majority, and the two choices seeming to be a coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives at the helm, no matter how much Cameron and Miliband try and deny it.

In 2010, 15 million people didn't vote, mainly because their vote "wouldn't make a difference." The maximum amount of votes any party got was around 10 million. Your vote DOES make a difference, and people have died for your right to have your say.

Image Credit here
Here's my plea to everyone who hasn't yet registered to vote, especially those aged 18-25. Please register. If you don't register to vote, the government isn't incentivised to create policies aimed to make your lives better. They'll aim their policies at improving the lives of your parents, your grandparents, or your younger siblings. They'll ignore the fact that you're on a zero hour contract (because you don't show up in unemployment figures), unless YOU force them to do something about it. They won't put a cap on rent charged by private landlords, because it doesn't affect them, unless YOU ask them to. They won't protect the NHS from private, profit-making companies, leaving you struggling for healthcare, unless YOU make a point of it.

I understand it's hard to get your head around the different parties, but there are lots of online quizzes you can take to help you make your mind up. Ask your parents, ask your friends, ask me if you like! Even if you register, and spoil the ballot, it will make the parties sit up and take notice. We know people are capable of making a fuss when it affects them directly - don't sit down and let other people decide the next 5 years for you. You decide! It takes two minutes, do so here.

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