Making voting a habit for the next generation

Brett John calls for more radical action to encourage young people to vote and to engage with politics.

Imagine this. Its 2050. The Tories have won the election again with a mandate of 10% and Boris Johnson’s hologram has been elected Prime Minister of England and Wales. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is still enthusiastically persevering with the Labour leadership.

This scenario presents many interesting conundrums, but perhaps the scariest and the most realistic is how 10% of the electoral register thrusted a party into Government. This prospect of politicians being elected on minuscule mandates to deliver election promises that vast swathes of the public are not aware of already sounds very familiar today.

The issue of low turnouts should not be underestimated or ignored and calls for something to be done need to be more than merely warm but worthless words at the dispatch box. The system needs a radical change.

The turnout at the 2015 General Election was 66%. Or, as I prefer to put it, 34% of eligible voters didn’t vote. The chances are that for every 10 people you walk past on a street, 3 of them didn’t vote, right? Not quite – research suggests that whether they voted or not is hugely influenced by their age.

The older generation has helped shroud elections, disguising the reality of a population that places less value on voting than its predecessors by bumping up the turnout percentages. The avail of voting is not being socialised into the next generation.

But what happens when that famous thriving ‘grey vote’ become ‘underground agents’ and pass on? Well, it will take us even further along the path shaped as a downwards spiral. Destination: A broken democracy.

It is widely recognised that my generation views voting to be much less of a civic duty and more of a civic option. That premise should not just be subserviently accepted by politicians. After all, can we really call our country a ‘democracy’ when the beliefs of younger people are not understood or taken into account in shaping the future?

Politicians are often too quick to dismiss the absence of a strong younger vote as simply being the Lauren Cooper excuse of not being “bothered”. The lack of enthusiasm to strike crosses on ballot papers delves far deeper than that.

Young people unquestionably care about politics. I wrote, deleted and rewrote that sentence a couple of times before settling. People will point to the bleak turnouts of the 18-25 age group but politics is greater than political parties or voting.  Young people care about the time it takes for an ambulance to get their grandparents to hospital, how much they will need to pay to get a full education and how difficult it is to stand out in a competitive job market. That is what politics is really about.

In spite of this, there is a level of disconnect between them and political parties. That wedge did not just appear overnight with no tangible reason.

Our generation has been neglected by politicians over many years, no matter who has the keys to No.10, through disregard and unkept promises. The Government hasn’t just ‘got it out’ for young people – what it has been doing is far worse than that. It knows that they can let us down time after time, and not be punished at the ballot box.

Politicians must, over time, destroy that culture and history in order to regain trust and a connection. National days of ‘action’, voter registration events and a few televised ad campaigns will not even scratch the surface.

The debate needs to be broadened with proposals of compulsory and online voting being addressed properly.

The trip to polling stations is viewed as an inconvenience in people’s busy lives. The growth and evolution of technology has allowed us to complete tasks in seconds with little hassle and while the rest of the world has adapted to suit that, the traditional way of voting has been at a standstill.

Matched with polling station, proxy and postal voting, online voting will aid the recovery of election turnouts to an acceptable level and legitimise outcomes.

Even so, the problem is not with the actual percentage, but what it represents. Voting online or compulsory voting will not change the assumption of many that the elite disregard vulnerable or weak factions in society. People want to be both listened and heard – so a platform must be created to do just that. A Welsh Youth Assembly will put us on the right track to realise that ambition.

Understanding and clarity are hallmarks of a democratic society. Select committees, hung parliaments, coalitions, referenda and all sorts of other complicated terminology and processes makes politics seem untouchable with its own corporate jargon that, deliberately or otherwise, leads to people feeling unqualified to vote.

There are thousands of people in Wales, young and old, who don’t know their FPTPs from their STVs. Thats a problem, but what could be the solution?

I don’t like quoting Tony Blair, but here I go: “Education, education, education”. While the Welsh Baccalaureate qualification does involve elements of politics, knowing party colours, logos and designing your own logo for a party you made up is as complex as it gets.

To achieve a well-informed, engaged and politically active Wales, the onus is upon us all concerned about the democratic deficit to advocate a strong, sufficient level of impartial political education.

So, those are the democratic problems that lie ahead for Wales. Where that path leads, though, isn’t predetermined. The future is ours to mould and the issues are ours to face should we choose to act.

Brett John is a 17 year old college student from Llanelli interested in politics. He tweets at @brettedwardjohn.

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