I have never voted. Not once. Appalling, isn’t it? I have spent my whole life bitching about politics without ever giving the democratic process a go. Since I turned 18 there have been three general elections in which I did not bother to vote.
In almost exactly a year’s time on May 7, the polling stations will open for the general election. One of the questions bugging the political parties is what they can do about the ever-collapsing youth vote. At the 1992 election, 63% of 18- to 24-year olds voted. In 1997 this dropped to 51%. The numbers have declined even further since the Millennium. In 2001 39% voted; in 2010 44% did.
Explanations include: young Brits have become more stupid; they’re more interested in Big Brother than Big Ben and the palace of Westminster; they’re too busy binge drinking; they bought into Russell Brand’s spiel about “not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class”; they’re politically apathetic; or just apathetic full stop.
I don’t buy any of it. More educated than many of their parents (a factor associated with stronger political awareness and engagement), young Brits are so politically attuned that a recent Eurydice study for the European Commission found them over-represented in some areas of political participation. We embody the slogan “the personal is political”; literally, we’re wearing the T-shirt right now. We’ve been campaigning our whole lives. I was marching at Pride and attending fringe political meetings even before I left school. My friends work for charities, run political magazines, societies, blogs, organise debates and sit-ins. Right now my flatmate is sitting across the room writing a proposal to save the skateboarders at Southbank.