For hitherto apolitical youths, PM Theresa May’s decision to hold a snap general election catalysed their responsibility to get informed. Three years ahead of the next scheduled general election, it is unsurprising that a vast number of first-time voters, with a lack of political understanding and often totally apathetic to political cause, had no idea how best to take advantage of their new-found democratic right.
With the rare exception of those who are naturally politically-minded, the majority of those who can be bothered to vote at all divided themselves into two spheres: the populist youth movement infiltrating social media or ‘the same as mum and dad’.
From wheat to Westminster, memes are as relevant to contemporary politics as an interview with your local MP. Tweets are the most appropriate outlet for political frustrations, and sharing a totally unbiased article on Facebook lets everyone know just how clued-up you really are, doesn’t it?
The fact is, we are presented with an ever-growing societal void, whereby politicians remain indifferent to an already detached youth and young people are increasingly inspired by the mob mentality of liberalism. A wonderful concept when exercised properly, liberalism has facilitated incredible social advancements such as gender equality, LGBT rights, secular governments, free markets and civil rights. However, when misinterpreted, many young people embark upon a new political voyage in the name of liberalism: entitlement. Nowadays, young people feel as though success in all aspects of life is a basic right and that it is the government’s duty to facilitate this right with such things as free higher education, an easily accessible housing ladder and an increased minimum wage — despite the increase in unskilled and inexperienced workers. Little do they realise that with minimal effort comes minimal reward.
Naturally, these expectations are disregarded by senior politicians and the youth respond with protests and petitions, anger and resentment; and the void grows ever bigger. Honestly, who can blame millennials for their expectations?
Democracy, technology and education have made twenty-first-century Britain a very pleasant place to be, and hard work often means nothing of the sort — why wouldn’t our generation expect more? The average GCSE student can tell you that the chemical symbol for Sodium is Na, that the Triple Entente was formed of the United Kingdom, France and Russia and that speed is calculated by dividing distance by time. But they cannot tell you who the leader of the opposition is, or even the core differences between the UK’s two major political parties. School teaches you to pass an exam; an exam which will almost always prove to be entirely useless in later life. It does not teach you how to understand the fundamental workings of society and as a result, when we reach 18 and are given an incredible responsibility, we simply do not know what to do.
There are widespread calls for the voting age to be reduced to 16 and given that 16-year-olds are able to leave school and work, it is a justifiable call. Probably the most susceptible to the zero-hour contract and minimum wage, yet not exempt from taxation, for 16 to 17-year-olds, the inability to have any control over their own professional situation is undoubtedly frustrating. However, if the government were to lower the voting age, without insisting that politics, basic economics and current affairs were incorporated into the compulsory national curriculum, it would risk further scrutiny from a newly enlarged age of ignorance.
Regardless of age, some first-time voters will choose to align themselves with the political leaning of their parents (provided they’ve made it this far through the turbulent teens without developing fierce resentment for them and all that they stand for). Others will inevitably be enticed by the righteous entitlement which encompasses all social media outlets in the run-up to an election, and they will vote; but very few will vote because they have bothered to make an informed and independent decision to do so.
Most people will tell you that it is your absolute duty to vote; that without doing so, you are actively disregarding the sacrifices our ancestors made in order to secure this democratic right. I disagree. For women in particular the pressure is deep-rooted; June’s election marked the 104th anniversary of Emily Davison’s death, after she threw herself in front of King George V’s horse in the fight for women’s suffrage.
I believe that it is your absolute duty to make yourself informed, to take an active interest in the current political situation and make independent decisions based upon what matters to you. The right to vote is so important because it allows us to live under the democratic assurance that we will be heard. However, if you vote for something because social media has told you to or because your parents have politicised your mind, without really knowing what you’re voting for or why, your voice is not being heard and your vote isn’t worth anything more than if you abstained from voting.