Joining the party: Gen Y and politics today

Saturday 17 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Barbican Library Contemporary Controversies

Declining youth involvement has become a recurrent feature of elections in recent decades, and, despite Russell Brand’s 11th-hour endorsement of Ed Miliband, this year’s general election followed a similar script. Yet the election of the UK’s youngest ever MP, Mhairi Black, seemed to symbolise the SNP’s appeal to Scottish youth following a huge turnout in the referendum (where 16-year-olds were eligible to vote). And the Lib Dems’ electoral destruction was held by many to be payback for the party’s U-turn on student fees. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership surge was partly attributed to the 66-year-old’s appeal to younger voters. The Conservatives, meanwhile – already accused of producing the ‘worst ever Budget for young people’ - faced accusations of cynically playing to their base of ageing traditionalists by vetoing proposals for 16-year-olds to vote in the upcoming EU referendum.

Yet even if the youth vote were suddenly mobilised, it is not so clear cut who would benefit. The British Social Attitudes Survey suggests under-35s are more liberal than their forebears on many issues, but their more conservative views on alcohol, drugs and casual sex have led some to dub them ‘Generation Sensible’. Members of The Green Party, which boasts the largest youth wing of any main party, have even suggested they’d be more willing to back the eco-Tory Zac Goldsmith than a Labour candidate for London Mayor. Meanwhile, claims that the young are less tribal and nationalistic are seemingly contradicted by the experience of young ‘cybernats’ in Scotland. While it is often asserted that younger generations prefer to engage in politics away from the ballot box, it is not clear they have built meaningful alternative institutions in which to do so. Nonetheless, as the average age of voters rises, the average age of new politicians is getting younger (even discounting Black’s shock win).

When trust in mainstream politics is at an all-time low, what continues to motivate young people engaging in the party system? Do young campaigners see this generation’s political battles as different from before, or is there more nostalgia for the certainties of left vs right? Is idealism or pragmatism the primary motivation to sit on council meetings or fight often hopeless causes in elections? What does it mean to be a member of a political party today? And will the proposed referendum on EU membership have a similar galvanising effect as the Scottish vote?

Laura Blumenthal
Conservative Party Councillor, Wokingham Borough Council

Alvin Carpio
board member, UpRising

Leo Evans
politics student, University of Liverpool; Liberal Democrat PPC for Liverpool Wavertree, 2015

Ross Greer
head of campaigns and communications, Scottish Green Party

Joel Cohen
communications manager, BeyondMe

Produced by
Laura Blumenthal Conservative Party Councillor, Wokingham Borough Council
Joel Cohen communications manager, BeyondMe
Recommended readings
If young people don’t vote; Why should politicians represent them?

Young people have been engaged with politics all along, they have just been waiting for a politician to engage with them and Jeremy Corbyn is seen by many of them to be this person.

Peter Hall, The Orator, 17 August 2015

What does the Lib Dem membership surge mean for the struggling party?

The Liberal Democrats have increased their membership by 30 per cent since the election, even though they now only have eight MPs. But can they turn members into votes?

Barbara Speed, New Statesman, 17 June 2015

Young people want a future, not freebies

But when it comes to young voters, self-interest doesn’t sell: we want a vision for society.

Carola Binney, The Spectator, 30 April 2015

What would make young people get interested in politics?

Young people don’t join political parties because they offer real change. If they join at all, it’s because it’s a great joke to tell their friends.

Rys Farthing and Alex Hudson, New Statesman, 9 April 2015

Twenty somethings, call off the generational Jihad

Tom Slater, 23, calls for an end to pity-me yoof politics.

Tom Slater, spiked, 27 February 2015

Young people need a meaningful education in politics

To see a dramatic change in youth voter turnout, investment needs to be made in political education in schools; not hashtags and advertising

Kate Crowhurst, Telegraph, 2 February 2015

Political parties need to better integrate young members

Most major political parties have youth wings, run by their young members. But with party membership declining, Emily Rainsford has considered how parties might better engage their young members and recruit others. I

Emily Rainsford, Democratic Audit UK, 11 July 2014

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