The ‘mostly forgotten’ could be the ‘powerfully unignorable’.
Around 75% of people aged 65 and over will vote in this UK election; unless something thunderously radical happens in the next six weeks, only around 42% of 18- to 24-year-olds will do the same.
The over-65s coming out to vote and the under-24s staying in has been the norm for the past few decades. This is why we’re now all hearing so much about the pros and cons of the triple lock on pensions, but absolutely nothing about student fees and housing benefit.
The older electorate has become an effective voting lobby. Because the over-65s turn out in such large numbers, every politician needs to court them and doesn’t want to utter a single word that will alienate them or drive any of them to political opponents.
Why can’t it be like this for 18- to 24-year-olds? If they registered and voted in force, they would become powerfully unignorable. I admit that “Powerfully Unignorable” is not a great campaign slogan, but it’s much better than “Mostly Forgotten”.
Of course, a lot of young voters choose not to vote because they’ve been put off by what’s on offer. “They’re all as bad as each other”.
This is an act of protest that immediately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s no coincidence that the collapse in the 18- to 24-year-old vote has seen the advent of tuition fees, reductions in housing benefit for 18-21 year olds, the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance, no entry to the “national living wage” until the age of 25, and cuts to student disability allowances.
These are measures taken in recent years by Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem ministers alike because, in the end, the youth vote was never going to trouble them. So, if financial savings were going to have to be made somewhere, they were going to be made from young people. This in turn has produced disenchantment: if the young are going to be so neglected, why should they bother voting?
And so it spirals on. Each reduction in registration and turnout met with a further opportunity for ministers to raid young people’s resources. While older voters are invited to the top table, the young are dumped around the back by the bins.
The material benefits are clear. If young voters turn out in large numbers, then they become a powerful bloc that needs to be heeded and addressed. It’s the basic politics of self-interest: the more 18- to 24-year-olds vote, the more their concerns will be taken seriously.
If we don’t participate in democracy, we won’t have much of a democracy left in which to participate. The truly wasted vote is the one that isn’t cast.
Although we were all mostly appalled by Donald Trump’s victory, there is some consolation that he has the courts and Congress placing checks and balances on him. In Britain, we don’t have these restraints. Total power resides with the prime minister. The bigger the majority, the more unchecked her (or his) sway across health, education, taxation, benefits, and indeed all legislation, not just Brexit negotiations.
Brexit, the election of Trump, the rise of Le Pen, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasing autocracy in Turkey; these are the will of democratic electorates. Unpredictability is extremely unpredictable. Votes matter and those who don’t vote risk getting not more of the same but the opposite of all they believe in.
■ Since 1992, voter turnout has fallen – with the sharpest declines among voters aged 18-24 and 25-34.
■ In 1992, 75.4% of 18-24s voted, but this dropped to 44.3% by 2005.
■ Analysis suggests that 43% of young people supported Labour in the 2015 general election, while 27% supported the Conservatives.