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A revolution of the mind: why Labour must target young voters

young votersIn the 1964 general election, turnout for 20-24 year olds (18 year olds couldn’t vote until 1969) was 77%, the same as the turnout for those aged over 65. In 2010 however turnout for 18-24 year olds was just 52%, yet for those aged 65+ it was 75%. We are all familiar with the story; ‘there is a democratic deficit’, ‘apathy is the norm’, ‘young people just don’t care about politics’. Anyone who is a member of the Labour Party and goes to local meetings knows that the attendance is severely skewed towards older people. Why has this happened, and what can we do?

Firstly, we need to understand why young people don’t automatically identify with what should be the default movement for social change in Britain — Labour. To my mind, the reason for this disconnect is demographic. The last 40 years have seen the traditional Labour-voting communities either destroyed, or suffer massive upheaval – leaving the old local political structures dysfunctional. Britain has seen massive internal migration, and external immigration, leaving communities in a state of flux – not yet sure of their place in today’s Britain: a breakdown in identity. This means that assuming that a certain stratum of society will always vote Labour is no longer a given, The Labour Party has to ‘get out there’ and recapture the working classes.

Until we do that, the siren call of the likes of UKIP will not cease to have a devastating effect on our claim to be the authentic party of the people. What then, can we do?

One major reason for the cynicism felt by my generation towards Labour is (and I hate to reduce politics to this) presentation. We are tired of seeing cardboard politicians in matching grey suits mouth slogans dispassionately on the TV. This cynicism felt by young people is difficult to combat; but one way to do so would be for Labour politicians to visibly show more passion for what they’re saying – if the biased media are only going to show 30 seconds of a speech, make it a passionate, exciting 30 seconds.

Secondly, politicians are not representative of the communities they represent in many cases. As a white, middle-class, male, I freely admit that there are too many of us in senior Labour positions. Increasing female representation is key – but so too is increasing working-class and ethnic minority representation. Until this changes, people will continue to view Labour as a club of careerist aliens and quite-nice-but-boring Primrose Hill intellectuals. I’m not saying that this caricature is accurate, but it’s a very common perception of the party, and we must face up to it.

Finally, in the long-run Labour cannot afford to be cautious. Playing at Tory-lite politics might nudge us over the line in May 2015, but until Labour has the courage to clearly differentiate themselves from the Tories and Lib-Dems we are condemned to the category of ‘they’re all the same’. What the front bench must realise, is that the disconnect felt by people towards politics is not just illustrated by the falling voter turnout amongst young people, but also by the sad fact that many people cast their Labour vote reluctantly. Things must change, fast. The Scottish referendum showed us that young people can be engaged in ‘establishment politics’ en masse.

I suspect that Labour has just one five-year period to become ‘exciting’ again – or it will gradually fade away into the history books, as the old guard leave life’s stage. We cannot afford to shirk the controversial political issues of our time: from inequality, the environment, private schooling, or drugs laws. Time is not on our side.

Image Credit: collage based on copyright image by andersonrise / 123RF Stock Photo

 

One Comment

  1. Robert says:

    Young people are interested but if you look not even the older people are bothering to turn out for these so called shower of politician, I’ve never seen so many bloody careerist all after one thing to become rich.

    Sorry but our young are interested just not in the shower we have today, Cameron Miliband and Clegg it’s little wonder Farage can pick up from lost fed up voters.

    I’m not going to vote for Miliband because I do not care to have another New labour Progress party running this country.

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