Comment: Refusing to vote is a protest against the democratic deficit
By Joseph Blake
There have been some early signs that the media hype surrounding the next UK general election in 2015 is already starting. However, most young people in Britain have no interest in the huge volume of column inches which are about to come their way and they probably won't even vote.
A new poll by the Committee on Standards in Public Life has revealed that four in ten people are so disillusioned from politics that they might not vote at the next general election and that under 30's are particularly disenchanted.
You don't have to search very far to understand why the youth of today have no faith in party politics, let alone general elections. University tuition fees have been trebled, the education maintenance allowance (EMA) scrapped, youth centres shut down and funding cut to all manner of different services for young people. Some of the poorer younger generation will have also started to see their families really struggling, with media reports showing that starving families are "stealing meat and cheese as the cuts continue to bite".
It is also true that, as a nation, we simply don't trust politicians. An opinion poll released earlier this year showed that only 18% of us trust politicians in general to tell the truth, with 21% of us trusting bankers more. What does this say about the state of politics today?
It's easy to see how this has happened. As one example, when politicians vote on something, the outcome of the vote has been decided long before the debates have even begun. It is the job of the whips office to notify all party members of which way they have to vote. Often called a 'hymn sheet', the daily or weekly digest sent to all members of the parliamentary party highlights Commons business where a division of opinion is expected. These are the votes where all members are required to toe party line or face serious disciplinary proceedings. This reinforces the depoliticisation of young people as they recognise the stagnant and controlled nature of party politics.
Occasionally, MPs do rebel but not very often. An MP who rebels more than most is Labour MP John McDonnell. On the issue of young people disengaging with politics he said: "It's no wonder young people don't trust politics or politicians when they are ignored or lied to. The response from many young people is quite right. We don't need leaders.”
Writing in the New Statesman last week on "how if you are young in Britain today, you are being taken for a ride", Danny Dorling, the Halford Mackinder professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, points out a new trend where young adults "face the prospect of having lower living standards than those of their parents".
The sad fact is that the more young people disconnect from politics, the more we become neglected as the major parties prioritise the age groups who they might be able to claim a vote from.
After declining the opportunity to vote at the most recent local elections, Michael Rogers, 19 at the time, told the BBC: "I just felt it would have been voting for the party that I hated the least, rather than the one I wanted to have power the most."
Michael is exactly the type of person described by Russell Brand in the now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman, seen over nine million times on YouTube. Young people are fed up with the 'more of the same' attitude in government which has made party politics predictable. Those in power blame the previous government for everything they are doing wrong, and the opposition doesn't offer an alternative. This scene plays out on our TV screens almost every day.
For young people living in the UK today there is clearly a lot to be angry about at. Yes, if there were more young MPs then we would be better represented, but as long as the system remains the same then little will change.
However, if in the process of deciding not to vote at the next general election – as advised by Russell Brand – a whole new generation of young people become politicised then we could see the currently absent youth movement make a return. Consciously refusing to vote is a protest against the democratic deficit.
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