Bury Free Press, 2nd January 2015
If you were to make a list of the top discussion topics of my friends, politics might not be on it. Young people in the UK have a reputation – probably deserved – for not caring about what happens in the Westminster bubble. 18-24 aged turnout at the 2010 election was just 44% – the lowest of any age bracket.
Yet 2014 was the year that expectations of our collective interest were shattered. It has, by almost all measures, been an explosive twelve months. Typically, younger voters tend to be more interested in single-issue politics, and there hasn’t been a shortage of that this year. It began in May at the European elections, where the outsider – UKIP’s nag – galloped out of the starting gate and put Farage, immigration and EU membership at the forefront of the political race. With his beer-swilling, smoking and borderline inappropriate comments (think breastfeeding), the enigmatic leader became and remains a controversial character.
And controversy is what politics needed. The grey-suited, grey-policy consensus politics has been challenged by figures who force our leaders into a meaningful debate about issues – a debate people want to join. The Scottish Referendum – inviting the views of 17-year-olds for the first time in British electoral history – ignited yet more discussion of what Scotland means to us, in England. The common room has been ablaze with talk of Russell Brand, UKIP and Ed Miliband’s ability to eat a bacon sandwich.
There is a tangible energy to student involvement which politicians can struggle to match. But it has been aroused in the minds of young people who previously didn’t know their Chancellor from the opposition’s Balls. Where the two major parties have the lowest share of the vote ever, this year’s election is going to be a show-stopper. Happy New Year.