Young Voters: Why your voice matters?

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With the general election almost upon us, the majority of the North East constituencies are preparing for another Labour win – at least that is what is expected. 

But despite the stream of campaigning from Labour, and other political parties, there is a large section of society who are failing to take an active part in the upcoming election – young people – so it must be questioned why.

Recent figures have shown that a mere 32 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voted in the 2013 local election, which stands in stark comparison to the 72 per cent of over 65 year-olds who voted.

Another research has shown that only 41 per cent of an estimated 3.3 million eligible first-time voters have said they will be voting in the upcoming May 7 election.

Russell Brand, actor and political activist, who has a combined following of over 12 million followers on Twitter and Facebook, has sparked controversy with many politicians after previously conveying the message to young people that “there is nothing to vote for”.

A recent interview between Ed Miliband and Russell Brand posted on Brand’s Youtube channel ‘The Trews’ collected over 900,000 views.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDZm9_uKtyo&w=560&h=315]

It seemed as much in the comments and response to the video that Brand’s ‘no-voting’ stance has attracted a lot of youth attention, with a recent ComRes poll suggesting that 40 per cent of young people aged 18-24 “wished more people like Russell Brand got involved in politics.”

Hilton Dawson, the leader of the North East Party, commented on this, saying: “I think Russell Brand is just another egoistic ‘celebrity’ who thinks they have the right to tell the rest of us what we should do.

“Simply not voting sends a message that you don’t care – which for most people isn’t the case at all.”

The North East is an area of the country which has a youth unemployment rate of over 25 per cent, meaning it is more crucial now, than ever, for young people to participate in the upcoming election and to take a more active role in politics.

However, a popular view held by many young people is that politicians are spending a majority of their time catering to an older generation, which in turn means that the needs of the under-25 bracket are being neglected.

Mr Dawson, who left the Labour party after 35 years in 2005 and has since formed the North East Party, added: “It’s critically important for the younger generation to vote.

“It’s their world, and they’re going to be running it. It’s vital that they take a really active role in democracy and make sure that their voices are heard.”

“We want world class standards of apprenticeships and support for young people entering adulthood, and we want to ensure that young people in the North East have as good a choice of higher education, job and training opportunities as anywhere else in the world .”

Jeff Townsend, the Conservative party candidate for Sunderland Central, said: “I think that a lot of younger people – students – feel that politicians just aren’t listening to them and that sort of perpetuates the idea of ‘what’s the point in voting’ and it’s just a round circle.”

Despite campaigning for the Conservative Party in a Labour-dominated area, Mr Townsend believes voting for any party is an important key to understanding politics.

“If you want to see change, or if you believe in whatever any of the other parties are saying, then you must go and vote for it, because that’s how you’ll make a change.

“Even if it doesn’t change the outcome of the MP representing you, it will change the views of the parties nationally and I think that’s key,” he said.

The last two elections have seen Labour win every seat in Tyne and Wear. This seems to have had a negative effect on the commitment from the party leaders to visit the region.

A recent Guardian newspaper graphic picturing the campaign trails from Miliband, Cameron, Clegg and Farage showed there had been a very little effort from any party to engage with the North East.

It pictured a very obvious absence of any parties in the North East, with only Cameron making some sort of attempt by visiting Alnwick and Stockton-on-Tees. Many people have attributed this to the common view that the region is almost a guaranteed Labour win.

Mr Townsend agreed that this lack of political promoting in the North East could encourage young people in the area not to vote.

He said: “You’ve got an entrenched party in the North East so predominantly – Labour win the elections by quite a landslide.

“If you don’t agree with Labour’s policies and you’re a young student, and you’re voting a different party, you often feel like what’s the point in voting, it’s not going to change anything as Labour are going to win.”

However, Mr Dawson rejected this concept.

“I profoundly disagree with that because you can change things.

“You can change things by campaigning on the ground, you can change things by taking up issues, by working together and by making your voices heard.

“If you organise democratically then you can change any seat in the North East and in the country. I have fought against huge majorities myself and overcome them,” he added.

In response to the lack of effort from the party leaders’ campaign trails, Mr Dawson added: “We have, unfortunately, ignorant people in all the Westminster political parties who just take this area for granted and think that it will always be the same.

“This region is discriminated against in this country and the young people in this region are profoundly discriminated against.”

The need for young adult vote grows ever stronger.

In October 2010, the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) financial scheme, which had been put in place to help students, was cut by the Government.

What followed was the increase of tuition fees to £9000 per year in 2012.

These are just two examples of where government policies have played out significantly to a young person’s disadvantage. Ultimately, they are just one of many reasons why young people should be voting to make their voice heard.

Indecisiveness is commonplace in politics and Russell Brand’s most recent ‘The Trews’ video is a prime example of this.

He suddenly made a hefty U-turn in his political stance, saying: “You’ve got to get the conservative party out of the government in this country.”

Referring to Ed Miliband, he said: “This bloke will be in Parliament and I think this bloke will listen to us, so on May 7, vote Labour”.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ac_pbq-zHc&w=560&h=315]

Brand is changing his mind at the last minute, and there could be yet hope for those campaigning for young people to have a greater involvement in politics.

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