Emily is a One Young World Ambassador from the UK who is passionate about driving engagement on pressing social issues, particularly those relating to young men and women. Emily is the Campaign Developer of the Red Light Campaign, a charity supporting survivors of modern slavery. She was a UK Delegate Speaker on Human Rights at the One Young World Summit 2013 in Johannesburg. Follow Emily on Twitter: @emilyrevess
The UK General Election on 7 May 2015 is set to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable to date. However, the UK political system, reflective of numerous others across the world, is suffering from widespread disillusionment, the decline of party identification, increasing electoral volatility and low turnout of young voters. The 2010 general election saw just 25% turnout amongst 18-24 year-olds, well below the national average. Around 3.3 million young people will have the opportunity to vote for the first time on Thursday 7 May, and I hope that this will provide an exciting opportunity for young people to actively engage in politics.
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Although 18-25 year-olds continue to be the age demographic least likely to vote in general elections and referendums, the upcoming election holds some exciting possibilities for the renewed political engagement of millennials according to British think tank Demos:
‘It is in this context that today’s young people, often referred to as Generation Y, could find themselves with more electoral power than ever before. We could be heading for a fundamental realignment of British politics, and young people, with distinct concerns and policy preferences, have a unique chance to shape it.’
My experience on a series of political and issue-based campaigns has taught me that young people are not disinterested in politics, they are disinterested in the complexities of our political system. Young people are passionate about political and social issues, but feel that their views on these issues are not being taken seriously by our political system.
I implore anyone who suggests that our generation is lazy, unmotivated, spoilt or not interested in politics, to take one look at the number of individuals taking part in student protests, signing online petitions or having their input in the global conversations through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Young people are emboldened, ambitious and inspired to make a change. It is now imperative that we provide them with the platforms to do so.
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Although the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign of 2014 was ultimately an electoral failure achieving only 44.7% of the vote, the pro-independence movement outlived the referendum and ‘flushed blood into the muscles of Scottish nationalism, giving it extensive reach’ according to The Economist. With a record-breaking turnout reaching of 84.6%, and incredibly high levels of public debate and engagement through social media, particularly amongst 16 and 17-year-olds able to vote for the first time, many commentators deemed this a success. Sky News Political Correspondent Sophy Ridge who concluded:
‘The Scottish referendum, has done more to re-engage a generation in politics than a hand-wringing MP or crusading campaigner’.
I am passionate about helping young people, in particular young women, to amplify their voice in key issue debates. In March 2015, I chaired a ‘Youth Engagement in Politics’ panel at the Polis Journalism Conference held in partnership with the BBC. Panellists included Sky News Executive Producer Nick Phipps, Founder of Shout Out UK, Matteo Bergamini and, Founder of Hand’s Up Who’s Bored and One Young World Ambassador Danny Bartlett.
We came to the conclusion that innovative digital media platforms could help drive political engagement with young people. However if the political class in Westminster didn’t acknowledge the outcome then the motivation for millennials to participate is compromised.
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Barriers to entry can be very high for first time voters. Technology and Internet-based platforms are crucial to engaging young people in politics and making it more accessible to Generation Y. I was thrilled that the House of Commons Digital Democracy Commission recommended that, by 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive - and that digital and secure online voting should be an option for all voters.
New media outlets like Buzzfeed Politics are changing the way young people learn about politics and find engaging, humorous content. One example of this is the infamous Milibae #Milifandom, an online campaign for opposition leader Ed Miliband. The campaign was led by a teenager to ‘show how powerful young people are'.
Political parties are exploring new ways to target young voters with varying success. Labour leader, Ed Miliband, agreed to a video interview with anti-establishment comedian Russell Brand.
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We must remain cautious of using the term 'young people' too liberally, as we are a richly diverse group whose political, societal, religious and economic views vary hugely.
Millennials make up 5.6 million of the UK population and I believe that those 5.6 million voices can make a substantial impact on how our political system identifies and manages issues. I believe that technology should be used to provide an online space for substantive policy and issue debates that young people can use to elevate their voice and ensure it is heard by those in Westminster.
I implore young people in the UK to vote on Thursday 7 May and make their voice heard. I implore young people to use their vote to ensure that political parties use their manifestos to tackle issues that affect young people.