‘They don’t appear to know what they’re doing in Westminster’ first time voter , Croydon.             

    The 5th of December was #DemocracyDay when ‘Young Voices Heard’ joined twenty other organisations calling for a range of measures to address disenchantment with democracy (1).    

    The day was coordinated by the Electoral Reform Society who commissioned a mini-poll (2) from BMG Research on the attitudes of the electorate on how well politics is working and whether they felt they could  influence on decision-makers. When asked to describe their opinion on how politics is working 82% of 18-24 year-olds agreed that it needs improving and 68%  felt that they do not have very much/no influence over decision-makers in the country as a whole. The first view is close to an average of 84% for all ages of voter, but 68% is relatively optimistic about their level of influence, compared to 80% of all ages. Its suggest that 32% believe they do have an influence,  perhaps suggesting a self-awareness of the potential of both young voters and direct action/campaigning, in drawing attention to youth-led issues such as climate change.

But I fear that the youthvote will fall away between the cracks of the GE2017 #youthquake (mythical surge in turnout/actual swing to Labour). Democracy is a dialogue that needs to include young voters, not just at elections, but Ive not seen widespread evidence of that. Before 2017 young campaigners were warning politicians to “Use Us (our vote) or Lose Us (our faith in voting)”, to “Talk To Us, Not About Us”. Have political parties upped their game in GE19, in reaching out to both younger voters and those influencers who are too young to vote but not too young to be heard? If they have their issues are still not cutting through to everyone.

    ‘There is not enough in politics about young people for there to be any point in me voting’

Perhaps Brexit-fatigue and the shallowness of politicians reverting to type with populist soundbites and promises has since silenced the ‘vote for hope’ that resonated amongst so many young voters in 2017?  Or is it the media who have overlooked and underestimated the #youthvote X factor and under-reported their influence? Voter registrations were up on 2017 levels and may yet translate to influence key marginals or tactical voting.

Whatever the outcome and analysis lets hope there isnt a repeat of reporting of “guessed” youth turnout as fact – the 72% figure is still being misleadingly referenced by some as credible! If the next Parliamentary session is to herald a new [younger] age for democracy, it must include a commitment to reforms that will recognise and welcome young citizenship, including legislation – so that we can learn the lessons of Scotland who have re-evaluated the place of 16 and 17 year olds in society, not just their vote, but a respect and value for their place in society. There will doubtless be lobbying for votes at 16, but it must go further than that to embrace a broader movement of active citizenship, spurred by youth-led and adult-allied self-empowerment, inspired by what works and driven by young leaders leading us today – not tomorrow.

Some are too young to vote – but all must be governed

Young people, particularly those under 18,  quickly graduate to become voters in the interval between elections and we have had 2 years of new voters since 2017.  The  Government backed active citizens programmes the National Citizen Service (£50/head) and the Step Up To Serve social action campaign (Volunteering), recognise ‘youth social action campaigning’ as legitimate public service activity. If this commitment to society is to be translated into votes, politicians need to include and address their issues too. Young people may be too young to vote but not too young to be heard. Together with their older brothers and sisters who are old enough to vote, young active citizenship must be proactively valued, included and embedded in our democracy. Here are a number of proposals to achieve that.

Youth Reforms – A Young Citizen Bill

The list below is a #youthinspired agenda for reform including proposed legislation. The Young Citizen Bill  a device on why to hang our calls to action, which can be challenged, added to and progressed throughout the lifetime of a parliament. Collectively the proposals are designed to ensure that youth voice and participation in our democracy is embedded as normal, and not a novelty.

Nothing About Us Without Us

  • A new coordinating Youth Minister of Cabinet rank
  • A new department for Youth Affairs working across Government
  • A shadowing Select Committee to hold decision-makers to account
  • A new Youth Citizenship Bill that introduces:

a/ a duty to consult young people (over and under 18) on national and local policy that affects them 

b/ a national youth service, leading and supporting local delivery 

c/ a new citizenship curriculum to prepare young citizens to vote

d/ equal voting age rights in all elections and referenda across the UK by 2024

e/ auto-enrolment of young voters as a common right of citizenship

e/ establishing a new independent Youth Commissioner championing the issues of young people age 16-25

f/ reform of the electoral system to proportional representation

Dear Politicians, Talk to young people – not about them. Democracy is a dialogue, and should include young people who cannot yet vote for a Government that can, and speak to first time voters about their concerns or lose them. They are waiting to hear from you?


James Cathcart, youth advocate/campaigner  @YVH_YouthVoice | ‘providing consultancy, training and fundraising services to those have something to say and those who want to listen’

8th December 2019 

(1) https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/democracyday-campaigners-set-to-challenge-radio-silence-on-need-to-overhaul-westminster-in-election-debate/

(2) BMG Research interviewed a representative sample of 1,630 GB adults online between 27th & 29th November. Full tables available from the Electoral Reform Society on request.

The questions were as follows:

How much influence, if any, do you feel you have over decision-making in the country as a whole?
Great deal of influence (2%)
Some influence (13%)
Not very much influence (40%)
No influence at all (40%)
Don’t know (5%)
Which of these statements best describes your opinion of how politics is working in the UK?
It is working extremely well and could not be improved (2%)
It could be improved in small ways but is generally working well (14%)
It could be improved quite a lot (35%)
It needs a great deal of improvement (50%)



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.