So today is the day the UK goes to the polls, people from all walks of life will be going to their local schools and community centres to put a small cross on a piece of paper that will decide the country’s future.
Markets could go up or down with whoever wins and polling companies such as YouGov may have to reconsider their whole framework if they get this wrong again. But who is the real group that could change British politics in the next five years? They are of course the 18- to 25-year-olds that have been waiting for change for a very long time! That is why Bite the Ballot, an organisation that encourages young people to vote, run by an ex-teacher, create a series of events in the run-up to the general election to get them debating and sharing their views.
Yesterday I went to their event targeted at those that were not sure who they would be voting for or whether they would decide to vote at all! In a very nice big Starbucks near Oxford Street, we discussed, debated, and sometimes laughed at all the factors relating to this snap election. I will go over some of these key factors that I thought might change the polls today.
Icebreaker — ‘I choose not to be a British citizen!’
As we gathered with our drinks (free, thanks to Starbucks head office!), I sat down with a group for a little icebreaker. This is where I met a university student who has been living in the UK for a long time but is actually an EU citizen, as she has a Danish passport (but has never even been to Denmark). What was interesting was that after Brexit, she held back on her decision to fully become a British citizen because, like many young people, she too was disgusted by the NO campaign and their degrading comments. By not wishing to become a citizen, she has given up her right to vote but this hasn’t deterred her from taking part in politics due to her involvement with Bite the Ballot and choosing to study a degree in Politics and International Relations. She has also inspired her friends to get more involved who were not interested before. I was really impressed by her decision to debate her distaste for the likes of UKIP and I am sure she will inspire more people with her determination to never hold back on your views — even when you can’t take part in the political process!
Did someone say POLICIES I HEAR???
With all the other mishmash that has gone on in the election, it was time to sit in groups to do our first exercise. This was where we had to pick our favourite policies from a list. It was a good idea to get an understanding of what other people are thinking and challenge one another’s views. So, from a scale of 1-7 where one was the highest, our list decided that health and social care would be first, followed by:
- Brexit — Not many people actually cared about this one in my group. But, we soon realized that Brexit could have an effect on all of the policy changes, whoever wins.
- Crime and policing
- Foreign Policy
BUT, we forgot the economy you say? The task had deliberately taken this out to make people think. However, a comment made about this had allowed us to realize that the economy is not just one thing, separate from everything else. Since if there is no money, then how would we be able to afford all this? Another comment made was that, ‘the way you run a country is how you run the economy’ — which I though was actually very true. The speaker backed her point with how Labour have managed to create a fully costed manifesto.
But, what are policies when a leader isn’t seen as ‘Strong and Stable’ or called a ‘Comrade’?
Stable, able or disgraceful?
Policies though, always seem to come second place in general elections. The question of whether an individual has certain leadership qualities making them worthy of being voted for, despite their policies not being ideal, is an important one. Ed ate a sandwich oddly and was viewed as a nerd; Gordon said something racist then regretted it; and Corbyn met a rapper that is liked by many young people to show he is ‘down with the kids. In this election though, much of the topic relating to qualities of a leader has paid attention to Corbyn.
Though many think his policies do represent their views, they still hesitate to vote for him — including the young and old. But he says what he means and from the debates he has taken part in, I think he is actually a good leader. Through the list we were given, qualities such as honesty to being able to make decisions, we felt were a key factor. It is not necessarily political experience that determines a good leader, but being able to know what to do in a bad situation by having ‘real-world experience’.
Funnily enough, even though Corbyn has had a lot of political experience, people in my group felt that his real-world experience was a stronger factor due to his campaigning activities, such as the African apartheid. Though some did question whether he would make the right decision if, God forbid, WW3 were to happen — given his careful stance against bombing before weighing up and fully discussing the issues. However, the KEY consensus on this was that young people see Corbyn as a stronger leader than May — who would probably just follow the status quo and jump into bed with Trump and his angry ways.
Cards on the table — the MANIFESTOS
Many people, especially the young, get confused as to which policies belong to which party, since most don’t have time to scroll through 30-page booklets with reams of paragraphs. Just like policies, party manifestos sum up their whole ideology if they win. That is why as a group we went through which key manifesto pledges belong to whom. Some noteworthy comments were:
- Even though May has put a lot of money in mental health which she also pledged in her manifesto, this can be seen more as a ‘preventative’ strategy. Mechanisms are put into place to do everything to prevent a person from having a breakdown, but in the event of one not much help is available.
- Banning unpaid internships — both the Greens and Labour have pledged this — yet a couple of people on my table stated how there could be less opportunities resultantly to do internships because there may not be enough to go round. However, one idea was to have some sort of government funding for this and to bring EMA back.
- Should political education be put permanently on the curriculum? Someone commented that this would make it less interesting for young people if they had to learn about theories they don’t understand. It would be better for them to do campaigning for an issue they care about as politics should incorporate the everyday.
What have we learnt then?
Whichever way the polls go, it is clear that young people do have a lot to say and should not be silenced. Bite the Ballot have made good progress to get us talking. After all the workshop exercises, we were asked if one person could sum up all our views. This was a perfect way to end the day and to maybe give us a small inkling as to what is to come. Many young people stated general views that were common to all; such as that organizing events like this is a good way to build more youth engagement. However, one comment which I thought could have an impact was how this person would ‘lose faith in politics if Labour does not win!!!!’
This made the whole room raw, for though it was a harsh statement, it may give us an insight into how and why young people engage in politics. Overall though, I was pretty impressed with the way Bite the Ballot organized the evening yesterday and it was exciting to meet people with so many varied views!
Thank you very much Bite the Ballot, I will look forward to coming to another de-café session!