openDemocracyUK: Opinion

Why I can’t wait to cast my first ever vote – and how to help others do the same

Young people who've grown up in an age of austerity need something to hope for. A first time voter explains why voting for the first time matters so much to her.

Temilola Fayokun
20 November 2019, 3.39pm
Voters in polling booths in Hackney
Alex Lee/Flickr, CC 2.0

On Thursday 12th December I will enter a nearby primary school, polling card in hand, and vote for the first time. It's a moment I’ve been waiting a long time for. I watched the 2015 and 2017 elections, frustrated at not being able to take part. I know that my vote matters. Young people could determine this election – if we turn out.

Age is “the new dividing line in British politics”, according to YouGov. Among first time voters in 2017 (those aged 18 and 19), Labour was 47 percentage points ahead. Among those aged over 70, the Conservatives had a lead of 50 percentage points.

But young people aren't voting. In the 2017 election only 57% of young people used their vote. This was a significant increase on 2015, where just over 40% of young people voted, but still nothing in comparison to the 85% of over 70s who cast their ballots. Young people's voices aren't being heard – and this has significant implications for our political system.

Groups like Youth Vote UK are looking to change that. They're running youth registration drives at colleges and shopping malls across the UK. Canvassing suburban households is no longer enough – it's about going where young people are, and talking to them about why this election matters.

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Low youth turnout isn't an inevitable part of life. Two decades ago youth voting rates were no lower than any other age bracket. But my generation are sceptical. We learnt from an early age that politics doesn't seem to work.

Our futures are far from bright. If things continue as they are we won't be able to afford to buy a home, to have a family, to escape precarious work. It feels like we're locked out of everything. Things our parents took for granted are impossible for us, and in a few decades we won't even have a liveable planet. The climate crisis has destroyed our optimism and the political action taken to address it is miniscule, mind-blowingly miniscule. Voting, in the face of all this, can feel like a farce. My generation's scepticism is not apolitical, it is born from seeing that society is a mess. We'll vote if there's a genuine opportunity to change things.

This election will turn on whether young people believe Corbyn's government is that opportunity. I'm daring to hope. I was 14 when Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. I grew up during the financial crash, during austerity, during the phone hacking scandal. I had no faith in politicians. Looking back I can see that I wanted to believe in an alternative. It was Corbyn that propelled me into politics – as I first joined the Labour Party and then shifted my energy to climate strikes. A Labour government could change our lives. The scrapping of tuition fees alone would make things so much easier. Add in a Green New Deal, ending precarious work, and a four day week, and I start to think that maybe there really is hope for young people.

But I don't expect Corbyn to do everything. Social change will not be achieved by politicians alone. We need strong grassroots movements and communities organising outside of the Westminster bubble. Our youth climate strikes have done more than pile on the pressure – we've created the space in which politicians can act. But we still need leaders willing to step into that space, leaders who address our reality. Leaders who actually understand what it has felt like growing up under austerity.

So I'll be out on election day, not only voting myself but encouraging my mates to vote, other students to vote, any young person to vote. If you're a first time voter now is the time to get registered, but you only have until the 26th November. If you've voted many times before, you can help get the word out by holding voter registration drives at the places young people are likely to be – colleges, shopping malls, gigs, cinemas – be imaginative. Young people are the missing part of the electoral puzzle. We can change the face of British politics, but only if we turn out.

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