The Youth Vote Comes of Age

After youth turnout boosted Labour's performance beyond expectations, Stroud UKIP candidate Glen Gogerly condemned David Drew’s success by saying that “young people don’t remember the Winter of Discontent.” A lesson in not repeating history, from a party attempting to scapegoat minority ethnic groups for a nation’s economic problems. Sound familiar?

The implication of Gogerly’s statement is that, by virtue of age, older citizens and politicians will make better and more informed political choices. For example, UKIP, whose average candidate is 52, have used their collective wisdom to propose zero net immigration. An initiative that the Confederation of British Industry say would have costed the UK £6bn in GDP.

Leaving aside a detailed analysis of the 1970’s that would undermine Mr Gogerly’s oversimplifications, the more important point is that condescension towards the youth vote (whatever arbitrary age that is) is not restricted to him alone. A scroll through Facebook reveals some of our sagacious elders blaming the young for voting on the basis of tuition fees; as if some pensioners have never been swayed by pension promises, or some of the married by marriage allowances, or some of the rich by tax cuts.

If age really does produce political nous, then I could argue that half the country have knowingly voted for a government which has increased public sector debt by 53%, which has taken benefits from the disabled, denied doctors the pay they deserve, and presided over an increase in food bank usage.

But this is not the argument I am going to make. For it is only the logical conclusion of Glen Gogerly’s assumptions. Just as the young are heterogonous in motivation, principles and political awareness, so are the old. Just as ‘the old’ is an arbitrary term, so is ‘the young.’ It is not age that counts but interest, research and debate. Political knowledge is not a result of experience but education. The apathetic, the ignorant, the enthusiastic and the knowledgeable will all reach their 60’s.

Rather than lambast the youth for exercising their democratic right, we should listen to the voice of an up until now underrepresented portion of society. It is the first step towards a future in which young people don’t remember a time when their peers didn’t vote, even if they don’t remember the winter of discontent.

Published in the Stroud News and Journal 7th June, 2017.