Voter apathy is held up as one of the biggest phenomena of our times. In the ward I live in Leeds, less than 20% of the population voted in council elections earlier this year. According to the electoral commission around 56% of people aged 18-24 are registered to vote in the UK, only 39% of 18-24 year olds voted in 2001 and 37% in 2005 which compares to about 60% of the whole population.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs
Seeking to examine why this is so and make some suggestions about, the Labour Uncut blog, recently posted a piece by Amanda Ramsey entitled How do we Re-engage Young People in the Electoral Process? Ramsey highlights several immediate suggestions around how elections are organised, some of which, such as lowering the voting age to 16, that Youth Fight for Jobs would support.
Yet her arguement doesn't really develop beyond this arguing for more education and a registration drive. The key issue in relation to low voter turnout only gets touched on tangentially when an interviewee is quoted as saying "...We have to have a voice in what that world will be," the lack of a mass political organisation that young people feel will act in their interests.
As the article comments many young people were deeply disappointed when the Lib Dems went back on their pledge to scrap tuition fees, and instead joined a coalition with the Tories and voted to treble them to £9,000 a year. Yet, the alternative that Ramsey advocates, Labour under Ed Miliband, is little better, advocating a slightly lower increase to £6,000 a year rather than pledging to reverse the tuition fee hike, the same goes the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance. The only positive alternative given is the puny pledge to provide 6 months work for 18-24 year olds who have been unemployed for a year. But given the austerity cuts, particularly the plans to scrap housing benefit for under 25s, what use is 6 months work when you've been homeless for a year!
Given the misery that all three mainstream parties are offering young people, combined with the expenses scandal which caught MPs from all major parties sticking their hands in the till, it shouldn't be much of a suprise that young people don't want to vote for political parties that repeatedly break their promises and only act in the interests of the 1% at the top of society.
A mass party that took up the demands of Youth Fight for Jobs - for decent jobs paying a living wage for all funded from taxing the rich and bringing the banks into public ownership under democratic control, to scrap tuition fees and bring back EMA, for decent affordable housing for all and other measures - would win a mass of support from young people.
Yet, challenging these issues should not just be left to election times, these attacks keep being made by the Con-Dem coalition every week of the year. A mass campaign on these issues, built amongst the unemployed, students, disabled and crucially the organised working class represented by the trade unions, could force the coalition to make even more U-turns than they have already and fight back the tide of these attacks. The TUC demo against austeroty on 20th October and the NUS demo on 21st November represent excellent opportunities to begin such a fightback.