The recent article from the Young Fabians on the need for Labour to win the youth vote in 2015 is bang on. The question is how.
Voting trends among young people are not encouraging. The 1992 election saw 67% of 18-24 year olds vote with those figures reducing year on year before reaching a record low of 38% in 2005. It’s likely the 2015 General Election will set a new record for poor turnout among young people, with only 45% of those 18-24 year olds eligible to vote actually registered.
We can spend an age discussing who’s to blame for these dire figures – the Lib Dems for reversing their position on tuition fees, Labour for the Iraq war, or the Conservatives for only being interested in issues that affect their base (i.e. old, white, posh people) – but the real aim should be to reverse the decline and properly engage young people in the democratic process.
So what should be done?
Labour quietly announced in June that it would launch a voter registration drive in schools. An excellent proposal and hugely overdue, but entirely dependent on Labour winning in 2015. What are local authorities – the bodies responsible for voter registration – doing to increase registration now?
We need our politicians to do more to reach out to young people. Labour have made a concerted effort to recruit younger candidates, with Luciana Berger, Anas Sarwar and Stella Creasy being excellent examples of young MPs having an impact. But our older politicians need to put in the effort too. Claiming to listen to the Arctic Monkeys won’t do it. But talking about their issues – employment and training, mental health, and how on earth they’re going to save the money to move out of Mum and Dad’s box room to their own place – will.
Politicians also need to communicate with young people in the same way they communicate with each other. This certainly doesn’t mean that Honourable Members should start using street slang – that would be disastrous and painful to hear – but they should be using social media and mobile technology more effectively. The David Cameron Facebook movie was fantastic: current, funny and got a serious message across. But where are the positive messages from Labour? Eddie Izzard’s Brilliant Britain video at the 2010 election was refreshingly positive but seems to be the exception to the rule. There is plenty of material for a box set of attack ads on the Tory-led government, but young people hate them and turn them away from politics wholesale, not just the party being attacked.
Labour can win the General Election in 2015, but only with the youth vote. Young people look for positivity and appreciate politicians reaching out to them. With young people turning their backs on the Lib Dems for their perceived treachery on tuition fees and the Tories seen as only representative of people like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Labour are in a prime position to win the youth vote- but we have to earn it first.