The role of young people in recent elections and referendums shows why we’ve never been more important, writes Eilidh Robb

Regardless of which political party you support or whatever views you hold, it is fair to say that the General Election on the 8
th of June left the UK in shambles.

The failure of any political party to win the majority vote has resulted in a hung parliament; a devastating blow for the Conservative party who wished to use the election to strengthen their position in parliament. Now, Theresa May has been left to piece back together her fragmented cabinet after numerous members resigned due to Conservatives’ failure to retain power.                                                          

There is lots to be fearful about: A Conservative coalition with the DUP – the Northern Irish party attributed with opposition to gay marriage, anti-abortion policies, and climate change denial; Michael Gove appointed Environment Secretary, despite trying to abolish climate change in school curriculums; and a period of upheaval as the UK Government tries to return to business as normal, amidst complicated and controversial Brexit negotiations.

However (I know it doesn’t seem like there is about to be a silver lining, but trust me, there is) it is the young people that we should be celebrating as a result of this election.

And here is why:

1. Brexit

In 2016, 51.9% of the UK voters chose to leave the EU in an unexpected Brexit result. Aside from the obvious upheaval this resulted in (which is enough for a whole new blog) what became of interest was the breakdown of Brexit results according to different age categories. The graph below circulated popular media outlets showing that an overwhelming majority of young people voted remain at 73%. This news united a wave of young people who felt that their voices hadn’t been heard or recognised in the Brexit result. Combined with the knowledge that there tends to higher voter numbers in the older half of the population compared to the younger half, it was clear that the composition of voters had a large impact on the overall Brexit result. And the youth weren’t happy.

2. General Election Turnout

The good news is that the Brexit result might have been responsible for encouraging youth engagement in politics. Although not yet confirmed, it is estimated that as much as 72% of 18-24 year olds showed up to vote on the 8th of June. A considerable increase from the 40% turnout in the 2015 election. This result is important for two reasons: firstly, it shows that younger generations are becoming more engaged in politics, and are willing to be part of the process of future decision making, secondly, it shows that young people are learning from past mistakes and being mobilised as a result.

3. The Youth Vote Mattered

Setting aside your allegiance to a particular party, the results of the General Election demonstrated that the youth vote does, and can, carry enough weight to notably sway the overall result. Likely due to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s popular youth-targeted policies such as scrapping tuition fees and increasing minimum wage, a large majority of young people chose to side with Labour in the election. And it is this influx of new voters, but most importantly young voters, that many argue pushed the conservatives out of their majority.


Call to Action

UK politics might be in a bit of a pickle (to put it lightly) but if there is one thing we can take away, it is that the youth vote matters, and politicians are beginning to realise this. Young people are more engaged than ever before, not just evidenced in higher voter turnout, but by their use of social media to encourage others to get involved. Brexit helped to mobilise younger voters while politicians led with their youth targeted policies, generating an increased youth presence in politics that is long overdue.  

Yet, politicians can do more. Token policies won’t be enough, we need to see priority and real action driven towards meeting the needs of the youth population. There can no longer be any excuse to ignore young voters, we have proved that in this election.

And young people can do more too. Social media is a brilliant way to connect with like-minded others, and promote political engagement. But conversations with other generations, or those who don’t share your views are equally important. Critically, participation beyond just a Facebook post is what matters; petition your local MP, start a campaign, lead a movement… we know now that what we think matters. Let’s change the face of politics, let’s decide our own future. Let’s be #GenerationVote.