Confessions Of A First-Time Voter
MY name is Lou and I have a confession: I’m 26 and have never voted – until last night. While I follow politics and would call myself political, voting has never been part of my life – all the parties seemed identical, as if there was no division between them. It felt as if whoever was voted in, my life was going to remain the same. But this time it felt different.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t vote in the EU Referendum as I stupidly felt it was a fait accompli. I’m still smarting from that decision. The result shocked the apathy out of me and my friends and showed that young people can’t afford to be passive any more. It was a painful lesson in how much being involved in politics matters.
How Does It Feel To Be Too Young To Vote In The General Election?
Needless to say, I wanted to make my voice heard this time around. The hubris of Theresa May calling an election simply because she thought she would win by a huge majority did little to quell the levels of anger amongst the young people who feel they’ve been rendered powerless by recent political events – referendums, snap elections, a hard Brexit. Perhaps she just imagined we’re all so disillusioned or disengaged we wouldn’t go out and vote. Big mistake. We did, and in massive numbers – just not for the Conservatives. A Sky poll today said that 63 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds voted for Labour, and regardless of which party you chose, record numbers of young people voted – about 72 per cent according to some estimates.
Instinctively I am left wing, so it was unsurprising that the Tory campaign didn’t speak to me or my friends in any way, but it also felt as if they didn’t bother trying; perhaps there was an impression that the prime minister could do without us. The whole campaign, from the blustering speeches about being ‘a difficult woman’ to refusing to appear on debates felt cynical and designed to capitalise on the country’s negativity and uncertainty which isn’t what young people want to hear. We want to know about the future. May’s campaign felt so similar to the old-fashioned politics everyone has had enough of; where politicians do things for their own benefit. Older people have had a big say in past elections, but now social media is a larger part of people’s lives, politics feels less opaque to the youth. Harnessing the power of the internet means it doesn’t take much momentum to get a movement going. Labour’s online presence was funny and well thought out. Theresa May, on the other hand, spoke in soundbites that were completely meaningless and in the digital age of memes and viral videos, these are things that do not go away. Photo calls at bowls clubs, talk of running through fields of wheat and pictures of the PM awkwardly carrying a cone of chips in Cornwall aren’t easy to live down. Labour’s social media campaign with videos by Ken Loach and the like made us feel connected and involved, no matter how disillusioned we’d been.
While not the result that I had hoped for, I’m proud to have played my part in this election. I’m pleased, too, that people were given the opportunity to get to know Jeremy Corbyn. The more people saw of him, the more they liked him. He’s natural and easy, human, decent, and principled and admits there are certain things he doesn’t know. I believe he means what he’s saying and he has tackled big important issues young people feel passionate about – the NHS, schools, university tuition fees, social housing. I run my own business and, while I personally wouldn’t be better off under Labour’s tax plans, I believe society would be fairer under him. We would all have a richer quality of life with a well-funded NHS, working schools and an effective social care system. Having recently used the NHS a lot, I don’t want to see it chopped up and given to private companies to run.
What Does It Mean To Be A First-Time Voter In The General Election?
Galvanised by my new-found involvement in politics, the only obstacle between me and the ballot box was the actual process of going to the polling station, which I’ve found steeped in mystery since I was a child and watched my parents vote. I was nervous about doing something wrong, but it was easier than I could have imagined – there were lots of guides online and instructions in the polling station, not that I needed them. There was an unexpected sense of camaraderie too, seeing all the different types of people flowing in and out.
Casting my ballot made me feel more engaged with the election. People have said, “I’m not going to bother voting because it won’t make a blind bit of difference,” but places like Kensington and Chelsea have come down to 40 votes or so, so it’s increasingly apparent that every single one counts. My area was a safe Labour seat and we won by thousands but I am still pleased I contributed to the process. I’ve learned the hard way the importance of getting involved.