Polls show that the next election will be a close-run contest. The 3.3 million young people who will be eligible to vote for the first time could be the difference between winning and losing. Clearly the youth vote is crucial to a general election victory but we need to act now or risk missing out on a generation of voters.
41% of 2015’s first-time voters prefer Labour, according to a recent poll for the Mirror and British Future. 59% of those 17-21 year-olds polled, however – no doubt including many Labour supporters – said they would not vote in 2015. Added to this, are the many millions more who didn’t vote for us in 2010 that we need to reach out to. It’s no small task, but to win in 2015 we need to show these young people the incredible difference a Labour government, working with young people across the country, will make. We need to inspire them to register, to vote and to vote for us. Ivan Lewis is taking on this challenge for the Labour Party, with help from Lisa Nandy, Young Labour and Labour Students.
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of cynicism about politics among young people to overcome. Nick Clegg has a lot to answer for, but the reality is that we’re all guilty, when knocking on doors, of asking if parents are around when a young person answers – often before even checking if they’re old enough to vote. We need to invest time and effort in this generation of people, building trust between politicians and constituents through honesty, listening and hard work. We need to work with young people, not just for them, to build the Britain that we – and they – want and need.
Between now and May 2015 we need to get young people registered to vote, communicate our vision for Britain to them and develop more young activists.
The most pressing priority is getting young people registered to vote. We’ll be working hard on university and college campuses across the country to do this – at freshers’ fayres and beyond. This is something we can be doing on the doorstep when we do meet those young people who are old enough to vote but not yet on the electoral register. We also need to look at other ways of making registering to vote (and voting) more appealing.
We have fantastic policies that will transform young people’s lives. Labour is the party that re-built our schools, introduced the minimum wage and gave us the Future Jobs Fund. And it is the Labour Party that, if elected in 2015, will guarantee the young long-term unemployed a job, build the houses we need to get on the property ladder and give 16 and 17 year olds a voice in future elections. Labour is clearly the party of young people but we can’t take young people’s votes for granted. There’s still a job to do in communicating these policies to young people.
Clearly knocking on students’ doors on a Thursday evening when the students’ union night is on is futile. We shouldn’t neglect traditional methods but we also need to meet young people in the places where they go and start using the platforms that they use to communicate and engage with their peers, such as Buzzfeed. How and when we communicate is important.
Our messages will best be conveyed to young people through their peers; an endorsement from someone you know, trust and empathise with is a strong one. This is why developing our young activists and advocates is so key to reaching out to young people more widely.
Our strength is in numbers on the ground and the high profile that the general election will have will provide the best opportunity in years to get more young people actively involved in the Labour Party. We need to look at how we create a greater sense of excitement around our campaigning, with socials, competitions and what Stella Creasy calls ‘gamification’, to encourage more people to take part and to retain volunteers. We should always be giving something back to our hard-working volunteers in the form of training, networking opportunities and personal development. Our current young activists should be at the heart of our youth engagement strategy going forward.
Between now and May 2015 we have to take on the huge challenge of getting young people registered to vote, showing them the incredible difference a Labour government will make to their lives, and working with them to get a Labour government elected. Only with young people on side can we form a majority government that will make Britain better for everyone.
Young Labour and Labour Students will be working hard to make that happen over the next eight months, alongside Ivan Lewis and Lisa Nandy. I hope you’ll also work with us to engage young people ahead of May 2015.
Bex Bailey is Youth Rep on Labour’s NEC