Analytical pieces which contain clear opinions.
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In April last year, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the 2017 TEDxExeter conference. The event was an amazing opportunity to hear impassioned talks on subjects ranging from preventing radicalisation, protecting our oceans, and community energy companies. What I was there to speak on, however, was something very much closer to my own heart: Brexit. More specifically, youth involvement in politics and how the Brexit vote might change young people’s attitudes to voting in elections and referendums.
The last year has been somewhat of a political rollercoaster - both for me personally, and for the country and world as a whole. We’ve had Donald Trump as US President for over a year, Theresa May has been Prime Minister for nearly two. We’ve seen vote shares for political parties plummet at points, and soar at others. So what, if anything, has changed in the year since I gave that talk?
I should probably start by clarifying that at the time of the referendum, I was PASSIONATELY a remainer. I’d done my research, read the papers, heard the politicians - and decided that remaining in the EU was the best decision (mostly economically) for the UK. As most people did, I expected remain to win. I thought it would be closer than some people were expecting (perhaps 55% - 45%) but I was confident in my belief that the issue of EU membership would soon be put to bed for a few years.
As you might imagine, I was surprised and upset on the morning after the vote to realise that this wasn’t the case. I remember vividly my abstract horror at the (seemingly) irresponsible and stupid decisions that had been taken by my countrymen and women. Being a young liberal, I was wrapped up in the short-term economic consequences. The initial plummeting of the pound had seemed to confirm my beliefs at the time, though we have of course seen fantastic growth since that point. Now, while certain elements of society are calling for a second referendum, I happen to think that we are set on a certain path now. Despite this, I’m certainly a lot more optimistic about post-Brexit Britain than I was at this point a year ago.
‘Why is that?’, you might quite justifiably ask me. Well, since my talk, I have begun my studies at the University of Liverpool. In my time here, I have met a lot of people with massively varying political beliefs. And, taking inspiration from my talk, I have tried to communicate with and understand the arguments of these people far more than I ever have in the past. People who I have talked with include several radical centrists, a self described ‘unrepentant fenian’, one-nation tories and more Marxists than you’d expect. The common theme with these young people? A desire to achieve real change. Whereas one or two years ago these people seemed almost ambivalent in their approach to politics, now I found there was a real desire to get involved (or at least stay informed). Whether they want to ‘kick the tories out’, develop ‘evidence-based policy’ or work towards ‘liberal reform’ - they are almost all becoming politically active. While some go out and campaign for the local associations, even many of those who are only passively interested do end up voting.
In the three general elections 2001, 2005 and 2010, people between the ages of 18 and 25 had an average turnout of about 40%. Last year, that figure was up to about 60%. That is a leap in turn out that we haven’t seen in years. Why did this happen? The Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn managed to actually CONNECT with us. They offered us something tangible that significantly appealed to a lot of young voters and those young voters went out and, well, voted.
This fills me with a level of optimism - a level of optimism I admit I didn’t have even a year ago. If we, as young people, can go out and (to borrow a quote from my talk) set the world on fire, the politicians can actually take us seriously. The first consequences of our increased political attention spans have already appeared - whether it be railcards for under 30’s, or free bus transport for that same demographic - the people in Westminster are starting to realise that we are a group of individuals who they simply can’t afford to ignore. While the first offerings appear to be little more than attempts to buy us off, I feel confident that in time we will see more important strides to create policy that will be beneficial to us.
Being the first generation of people who have been exposed to internet and advanced forms of media through our formative primary and secondary school years - we are more switched on to the world than any generation before. With a wealth of information at our fingertips and the ability to observe our representatives from the comfort of our university dorm rooms, I hope that we can continue to harness our power to affect change by taking part in democracy and proving that we are worthy of attention.
James Craig is finishing his first year at the University of Liverpool studying History with Irish Studies. He did a talk at TEDxExeter 2017 whilst studying A-levels at Exeter College, and has remained active in politics ever since - standing as a city council candidate in the May 2018 Local Elections (however unsuccessfully!).