The power of the youth vote could stop a hard Brexit – vote tactically to make your voice heard
Commentators dismiss young people’s commitment to change. Yet nearly 1.3 million under the age of 34 have registered to vote in the past four months
When he assumed the American presidency, John F Kennedy declared that the torch had been passed to a new generation. It was a phrase that struck a chord around the world and marked what many had hoped would be a new beginning.
In British politics, there is a feeling among younger people that they currently are unable to prise the torch from their elders. As I go up and down the country talking to young people, they tell me about their feelings of hopelessness, mistrust, alienation and increasing despair at being unrepresented and ignored in our first-past-the-post democratic system.
But what gives me enormous hope is that young people are finding new levels of energy from each other. A recognition of the power of a collective voice and collective action – that together we stand, divided we fall. In the last 12 months not only have we witnessed young people’s involvement in the Extinction Rebellion movement, but we’ve also witnessed hundreds of thousands participate in the Final Say referendum marches, as well as circulating various online petitions via Facebook and WhatsApp to tackle all sorts of issues.
Sharing posts and commentary via Instagram stories is becoming more common with young people – especially those involved in politics/rights/law/international news – creatively interacting with followers, raising awareness and getting their opinions out there. Trending on important issues has become “a thing”, for example, the blue profile picture, a symbol of the Sudan crisis, went viral.
In terms of Brexit and this December election, commentators dismiss young people’s commitment to change. Yet nearly 1.3 million under the age of 34 have registered to vote in the past four months. That’s a 50 per cent increase in registrations compared with the same period before the 2017 general election was announced.
And I see no reason why this engagement will not continue as we approach the postal vote deadline on 26 November.
Online registrations to vote are also at unprecedented levels for this time of year, a time that normally sees a spike in registrations as new and returning students sign up at a new address. In the four days that followed the calling of the general election, voter registration surged, with more than 516,000 applications – nearly 166,000 of these from under-25s.
I feel something changing. A whisper is turning into a rallying cry, with young voters eager to have their say at this most pivotal time in our country’s history and their future. Great youth organisations like My Life My Say – to empower young people to participate in democracy – are being set up all over the place.
But there is still anxiety about who to vote for, how to make their voices heard, how to best ensure that a destructive Tory majority government under Boris Johnson and his fellow hard-line Tories never hold the levers of power.
In the UK’s imperfect, unrepresentative and unfair first-past-the-post electoral system, there is only one answer and one last chance to stop the hard Brexit of the Johnson withdrawal agreement and political declaration documents – and that is for young people to vote tactically.
People of all ages fear the economic, social and reputational damage that Brexit is already doing to our country – damage that will only become substantially worse if Boris Johnson is allowed to implement his reckless plan. But the demographic that is most against this plan is young voters. One poll showed that 73 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they had voted to stay in the EU, compared with 62 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds and 52 per cent of 35- to 44-year-olds. This is not surprising, given their life chances are going to be so severely curtailed.
Did Johnson time the polling day to take place just after the universities have packed up for Christmas to silence these youth voices? As a cynic, I would say yes, but I have confidence that young people will not stay away. Young people need to continue to organise, to become tactical and to beat their elders at their own game.
With a team of the most expert, talented people I could put together, I launched a tactical voting website RemainUnited.org to offer help to those seeking to tactically vote to stop Boris Johnson. I chose to launch on 10 November as it was Remembrance Sunday and, in the whole Brexit debate, the EU as a peace project has been forgotten, and the thought of future generations having to go to war should fill everyone with horror – Lest We Forget.
The feedback from young people has filled us with encouragement, but there is still much to do. The most important message we need to spread is that to out a Tory majority, you need to place your “X” for the one remain party that has the best chance of winning.
Nathan Lloyd, a young Liverpudlian, spoke for a great many youngsters when he told us it was patriotism that informed his own vote to Remain and his subsequent impassioned support for the cause.
“Our involvement in Europe was neither an accident nor a betrayal,” he said. “It was an integral part of our national story to contribute to an institution which transcends history and tribalism, assuring peace in a continent once condemned to a seemingly perpetual ballet of bloodshed and destruction.”
I support all initiatives to involve younger people more in our politics. The Common Futures Forum, which aims to inspire, empower and connect young and socially excluded citizens to lead change, is among the finest of examples.
If Boris Johnson and his bully boys and girls win a majority in government on 13 December, it will be the start of the end of our tolerant, stable and happy country. The future is in the hands of our young – but only if they are willing to fight for it. We need to win, and the only tool we have for that on 12 December is to vote tactically.
Gina Miller is the founder of Remain United, an organisation that encourages the tactical vote on 12 December