Picture this: you’re in a theatre, a magician stands next to a table lined and decorated with fragile ornaments. The magician whips the cloth. You wait with bated breath but the ornaments remain standing, nothing is damaged. You relax. But you were distracted. The magician has run away with your best tablecloth. This is the state of today’s political climate. Amidst the backdrop of huge social and environmental upheaval, which rightly takes the centre stage, the politicians still practice their sleight of hand.
When I think about younger generations and politics, I think about social media, and the sharing of global political crisis, global warming, global conflicts, and global persecutions. To say that young people do not engage in politics, might be an issue of perspective, young people do engage in politics, but the scale of the current global issues and access to information have shifted the lens and process. Whether or not young people engage in the politics that immediately affects their lives is a different discussion. However, the discussion rarely tackles the how or why, instead choosing to just accept the convenient reality, even relish it. So let's get down to it, why is the age at which young people become interested in politics only increasing?
In your teenage years you begin to be exposed to politics and the society you live in. As a person born in the late 90s, your first experience with the political climate was likely that of the 2008 financial crisis. I remember watching the news and seeing the bank queues, not quite understanding the significance but certainly feeling the atmosphere it left behind. I remember watching the following 2010 general election that, though no of us knew it at the time, would define the next decade of domestic policy, austerity and all.
In that 2010 election, young voters and those older, in support of their plight, overwhelming turned out to vote for the liberal democrat party on the promise that they would oppose any increase in tuition fees, a promise broken even before the year was out. They say our first experiences often shape our perspectives, there sits an entire generation betrayed at the first sitting, and in an ironic twist of fate the liberal democrats have since faded into obscurity, only to be remembered once a year whilst logging onto student finance.
So, there you are, a teenager soon to be saddled with more university debt, to pay for a banking crisis you didn’t even understand. Well, that’s okay, the economy will have improved by the time you graduate university, surely. Wait, what’s that noise? Ah, that’s the distinct sound of a red bus labelled “we send the EU £350 million a week”, and yes dear reader, it does sound like bullshit.
Without a doubt the largest political disappointment for a generation, and the greatest display of the differences in intergenerational politics was displayed during the 2016 EU referendum. In which, for every social category, the majority of young people voted to remain, with those younger voters no doubt searching for some semblance of stability that an older generation has taken for granted. The frustration has only increased over the last 5 years, as all the lies, skewed statistics and baseless claims have come to bare the rotten fruit that is post-Brexit Britain.
In light of these facts, it isn't difficult to imagine why any young person may feel nihilistic about the immediate social and political landscape, wrongly choosing to focus on the comforting social media pseudo-politics instead of protesting and petitioning.
In the most recent local display of generational negligence, the UK government announced an increase in national insurance to pay for badly needed reform on social care. On the face of it, this does not seem like an issue, social care in this country is lacking, an inevitability after ten years of austerity measures and an ever-increasing demand from an increasingly older population. Whether or not this money is actually invested in social care and not in the recruitment of more NHS executive “cooks” to stir the burdened broth remains to be seen. Regardless, the government’s plan to use National Insurance over Income tax further demonstrates generational biases, by protecting older homeowners; the older homeowners who make up a larger percentage of the electorate.
The numbers, National Insurance is taken as 12 percent on your earnings under fifty thousand pounds, and just 2 percent on any earnings above, this means any increase disproportionately affects poorer, younger workers. Further, an ever-increasing elderly population means we will be increasingly saddled with the burden of an ever-increasingly wealthy, older generation. I mentioned homeownership, as a side, to highlight generational bias; what was once a right of passage has since, for many, become a dream. In the 90s, the percentage of homeowners aged 25-34 was around 70% and this, unsurprisingly, unaccountably, has since declined to under 30%.
To highlight the scale of the problem, just three per cent of the total 650 MPs in the UK parliament are aged 18 – 29. The average number between 1980 – 2021 sits at just above one per cent, a shocking statistic considering the age group has little in the way of a cushion against negatively impacting political decisions. This lack of representation has no doubt contributed to a lower voting turnout, at less than fifty per cent in the last general election, with those aged 18-24 consistently being the least likely to vote.
The conservatives have railed us for the last decade, the Labour party, traditionally the main vote for change, have been about as much of an opposition as a wet leaf in the wind. New labour doesn’t stand for anything, so focused on in-party fighting and their own internal identity crisis that they miss what really matters to their would-be voters. So votes, in vain, go to the Green party or SNP because at least they actually mean something. The rest of the ballots are ruined, or lay blank by the polling station door.
It is unsurprising then that politics today does little to entice us, instead it appeals to an older electorate, creating a negative feedback loop of increasing animosity. Then they have the gall to ask us why we don’t vote.