It’s been over a month since the General Election, and I seem to be the last person that’s talking about it. Actually, that’s not strictly true: my school hates the result. Not only does it mean we’re facing more cuts to services that we as young people need, alongside the fact these cuts led to the redundancy of year leaders in our school, which all but two people in my year group oppose. I think from my personal perspective, I really did not want the Conservatives to win this election. And they did, with a 51 per cent majority (ironically with only 37 per cent of the national vote).
With all personal politics aside, I think it’s easy to see how I was led so easily to believe that the mighty Labour would prevail and save the country from austerity. Clearly it’s not happened, and it’s obviously what the public apparently wanted. That’s fine: if that’s what First-Past-The-Post will lead you to believe then who am I to argue? But the election did lead some politicians to quit. Nick Clegg quit, Nigel Farage (kinda, sorta) quit and Ed Miliband quit too. Labour was defeated in the election, and miserably at that. With Ed Miliband’s resignation, we’ve all cared a bit more over who takes his place than we have over who replaces Nick Clegg.
And on the 17th of June, BBC Two epitomized this with the Labour Leadership Debate, the first of its kind, where the four hopefuls are trying to persuade Labour members and those who’ve registered to vote not only that they should be the new Labour leader, but also the next potential Prime Minister. The four contenders are Liz Kendall, Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. In the hour that they had to persuade an audience of supposedly open voters, it was decided that actually, nobody won that debate. None of them particularly won my appreciation as well, and here’s why: I don’t trust any of them to work for me.
Think about it for a second. Take Jeremy Corbyn, who’s a veteran MP and is now 66 years of age. I have no experience with what Jeremy has done for Islington but I don’t know if I trust someone who’s going to be at least 70 years old at the next election to be Prime Minister and work for me as a young person. Nobody standing for Labour leadership is younger than 40, and I don’t trust them to align with the issues that face me as a young person, despite how appealing Labour were to young people like myself in the election just gone.
It’s not just Labour either. The Lib Dems have their leadership election slightly sooner than Labour, and they have half the candidates: Former Health Secretary Norman Lamb (who many of us at my school like for his mental health work) is standing, and so is Tim Farron, who was President of the Lib Dems up until last year. Tim Farron will be in his fifties by the next election, and Norman Lamb will be in his sixties.
Don’t for a second stand there and tell me that young people don’t actually care about politics. With the work of the British Youth Council swept aside for the moment and with personal politics aside as well, let’s talk about Mhairi Black. She’s a Scottish Nationalist and she’s also the youngest politician in Parliament: at just 20 years old. Not only is she the current ‘baby of the House’, but she’s also the youngest MP ever since at least the Reform Act 1862, replacing James Dickson who was 21 when he was elected in 1880. Not only that, but she’s one of the newly elected LGBT MPs in Parliament. I think it’s fair to say that if anyone’s an inspiration in this Parliament, it’s Mhairi. And she’s young. So why do we have this misrepresentation in politics?
If the Labour debate has taught me anything, it’s that politics is an old people’s game.
You only have to look at the last election to see an obvious reason why. The Conservatives won the election, and they protected pensioners’ benefits. This article from before the election even claims the Conservatives are the party for the pensioners. For young people, your housing benefit is being cut if you’re 18-21, and if you’re 18-21 you’ll lose Jobseeker’s Allowance if you aren’t in training or an apprenticeship after six months.
Back in 2010, 18-21 year-olds accounted for just 12 per cent of the voter turnout and 16-24 year-olds accounted for 12 per cent of the UK population in 2011. Bear in mind that the census data includes a lot more of the population, so the turnout was likely very low. Even though 2015 data has not been released yet (or at least the Office Of National Statistics has not released it), we can assume it was low as well.
Labour vied to be the young people’s party, but if the leadership debate has taught me anything, it’s that politics is still an old people’s game. And this needs to change, fast.