The really big upset of the 2017 general election was the turnout of the young vote. The conventional wisdom has it that 18-24 year olds stay at home on polling day, and let the older generation decide their future. This time, things changed, and Jeremy Corbyn reaped the rewards.
But the conventional wisdom isn’t quite right.
Whilst the youth vote appears to be massively up since 2015 (up from 43% to 66%), it’s not true to say the young have never voted. Up until 1992 the youth turnout had always been up around 65-70%. The moment John Major beat Neil Kinnock, to secure a record fourth Tory term, it fell off a cliff. Blair and Cameron were the pick of the oldies.
Think of that what you will, but the 2017 election begs the question: Are the young back in the driving seat now, and if they are, what does it mean for May, Corbyn and Brexit?
I’d argue they are back, they’re back for good, and it’s a game changer.
It came as no surprise to me when the Oxford University Press analysed 130,000 children’s stories and declared ‘Trump’ to be the national word of the year for school age children. As an author, I visit a lot of schools and run creative writing workshops. Last time I was at a primary, I asked a class of year 5s to come up with a crime they’d like to commit. Five out of six groups of young creative criminals decided to assassinate or kidnap Donald Trump.
The idea that kids are not interested in politics is nonsense. Trump and Brexit are just as much hot topics in the playground as they are at the water cooler. What the grownups are talking about, the kids are too.
As they get closer to voting age, things can go one of two ways. Either young people can become enthused by politics or, as has happened recently, they can become dispirited and bored by the whole grey suited business.
Of course, there was a time when the political agenda was absolutely driven by the young. The 60s and 70s were marked by youth protest and massive political change. University campuses were where the direction of travel for politics was set, and the young made their voices heard on every important subject.
Today, those same people are still setting the agenda – only now they’re in their 60s and 70s.The young have seen their parents and grandparents interests pushed to the fore, and voting, and political protest has seemed futile. Politicians have attempted to turn this around – but while getting people to vote by appealing to their sense of civic duty might work for the old, it won’t wash with young adults.
However, the massive chaotic changes we’ve seen over the past couple of years have set the debate raging across the country. Politics is exciting again, and if you’re at university, or college an election isn’t a chore, it’s an opportunity for an all night party. A demo isn’t just a way to show your outrage, it’s a picnic.
This is, of course, how it should be, but the point is this: If you’re seeing politics the way you see the World Cup with your team in the final, then voter fatigue just isn’t a thing.
Politicians may be wondering how their vote will hold up if the public is forced to haul themselves out for another election in the near future. And it’s pretty easy to find middle aged middle Englanders who sigh deeply and roll their eyes at the prospect.
But I can guarantee that this new youth won’t be thinking that. They’ll be rubbing their hands, studying the form, and getting the beers in.