In which Anna McGovern, the Chair of Medway Youth Council, looks at the relevant issues for young people in this General Election..
Thursday 12th December will be a crucial day in the UK’s political sphere. It is the General Election – a day in which the people vote for who they want to represent them in Parliament. A total of 650 candidates will be elected as Members of Parliament (MPs) to decide laws and policies governing the UK. Individuals vote for the candidate they wish to represent them within their constituency on a Parliamentary scale. Many of these candidates will belong to a political party, but some candidates do stand independently. Current polls suggest a Conservative lead, with the Electoral Calculus website outlining an 82% likelihood that there will be a Conservative majority. But I tend to take these polls with a slight pinch of salt, because you can never truly know what to expect until the election result is announced to the UK. Individuals will be voting for their preferred candidate (or, in some cases, the “best” out of a bad bunch) within their constituency for the General Election.
To be eligible to vote in this upcoming General Election, you must have already registered to vote by Tuesday 26th November. If you have registered after this date, it is too late for you to vote in this election – but you are able to vote in future ones.
GOV.UK states that to vote in the General Election on the 12th December, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- You must be registered to vote.
- You must be 18 years of age, or older, to vote on the day of the election (known as ‘polling day’).
- You must be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen.
- You must be resident at an address in the UK, or be a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years.
- You must not be legally excluded from voting.
If you are still unsure about the General Election, the BBC has published “a really simple guide” on information regarding this election. You can find this guide for your reference here.
In the past, the youth turnout has been staggeringly low in comparison to votes made from over 65s. In the 2015 General Election, there was a 43% turnout for young people, in comparison to a 78% turnout for those over the age of 65.
But all of this looks set to change. When the snap election was first called, almost a third of 316,264 registrations were made by those aged under 25. Young people are taking a stand in having a say on their future. Whether it is Brexit, the NHS, or climate change being their most important priority – it is clear that young people want to shape the course of politics for the sake of their future.
But what are some factors affecting young people before this General Election?
UK Elections typically take place in the May or June period; the last December election was in 1923. For students, the date of this upcoming General Election may starkly coincide with when they finish their term at university. It could be the case that students are registered to vote in their term-time constituency but may be at home on polling day, or vice versa. This is why preparation is key. Young people should be aware that you can register to vote at both their home and term-time addresses if they are living in different constituencies, but you may only vote once. Voting more than once is, of course, a criminal offence. If students are not present on polling day, they can register for a postal vote, or alternatively register via proxy whereby someone votes on their behalf. Keep in mind that you can only vote via proxy under certain circumstances, such as having a medical issue or disability, being away on polling day, or not being able to vote in person due to work or military service.
I believe that education is also a fervent factor that affects young people before a General Election. At the moment, in schools, there is little to no education on any aspect of the political discourse in our society; the only education you receive in politics is if you decide to take it as an A-Level. I am not talking of a biased system where you are indoctrinated to a left or right ideological stance in our political society. Young people should be taught the basics of our political systems; the foundations of how they were curated, the policies each political party advocates towards, the difference between a Member of Parliament and a community councillor – the true essence of what politics really is. If schools do not teach young people about politics, young people have to take the initiative to learn what they can about our political discourse. Not all of them will. Alternatively, however, you can argue that there are adults that are even less politically aware than young people themselves. Age cannot be a factor in how politically engaged individuals are in society. You can look at statistics, but theoretically, there could be a politically unaware 67-year-old, and a passionately engaged 18-year-old, who will head down to the polling station and cast their vote on their favoured candidate.
But something I will always argue in favour of, which I believe affects the voter turnout – is the fact that we do not have a provision for 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in a General Election. This argument may baffle you; if we already have a low youth turnout as it is, why would lowering the voting age to 16 make any difference in an election? But consider the fact that over 1.3 million 16 to 17 years olds are currently disenfranchised, whilst their peers across the border in Scotland have already implemented this policy. The participation in free elections is a fundamental human right, protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UK’s Human Rights Act, meaning that the reasons for excluding individuals from the vote have to be fair and balanced. It is impossible to justify the exclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds from our democratic right to vote when at 16 alone, the law permits them with the ability to give full consent to medical treatment, pay income tax and National Insurance, obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in their own right, start a family, become a director of a company – and so much more. Although my Conservative MP candidate in my local constituency is incredibly hard-working in her own right, I am baffled with the hypocrisy of our Government’s stance on maintaining the voting age to be 18. How can they maintain this policy, when in the internal election for our Prime Minister that saw Boris Johnson get elected, young Conservatives under the age of 18 were permitted to vote in this election? Is the message here that only young people who are members of the Conservative party are capable of voting in an election – but the rest of our young people in the UK are not? We also cannot overlook the fact that, in a national ballot for young people called “Make Your Mark”, the motion of Votes at 16 has been prioritised five times in the yearly ballot. With the existence of structures such as the UK Youth Parliament which see young people being elected as Members of Youth Parliament for their constituency (myself being one), you cannot deny that young people long to be involved in our local and national democracy. Implementing this policy has the potential to dramatically increase the voter turnout for young people, ensuring that they can have a say on their future – instead of leaving it to much older voters to decide it for them.
Regardless of where you stand in our political discourse, remember that if you are eligible to vote – please use it! A third of the country did not vote in the last election, believing that their vote would not make a difference. Consider the difference you could have made if you did.
One vote can change everything.
Anna McGovern is the Chair of the Medway Youth Council and serves as a Member of UK Youth Parliament for Medway. She is in her final year of A Levels at Rochester Independent College, and she is passionate in making a difference to other people’s lives locally and nationally. You can be kept updated on her work on Twitter and Instagram.