Young voters: What do Britain's 18 year-olds really think of our politicians?

Interviews,Charlotte Philby
Saturday 03 April 2010 00:00

Jake Thorold, London


If young people feel disillusioned with politics, then it's in part because we only have a choice between two parties – and both are constantly seeking the popular vote, rather than really standing for anything. Our current voting system is a big problem: it's just not democratic. A lot of young people have different views to those of the two main parties, and there is no one for them to turn to. Proportional representation would be a much fairer system, and would engage those who are put off by the two-party system we have now.

I'm not sure who I'll be voting for. Labour are better than the Tories for sure, but I'm hesitant to vote for them as they've moved too far towards the centre. I'd like there to be a viable left-wing alternative.

The issues that matter to me are things like public spending, and the taxing of the rich and the poor. Right-wing thinkers claim that your money is your own and you deserve to spend it as you choose – which would be all well and good if everyone had equal opportunities at the beginning. But they don't. If you're born into a rich family, you have an outrageous head start over someone who is born into a poor family, and we need to create a more equal starting point. The best way is to introduce higher taxes for the rich.

Education is hugely important. Further cuts in university funding would be outrageous as the poor would be further discriminated against. Universities should be free so that everyone has a chance. I'd also like to see initiatives to develop failing schools through partnerships with better ones, and the abolition of private education, which provides unfair advantage.

At the moment I'm considering voting for a minority party, but I'm not sure which one. It's important to vote, to put your voice in. In this election young people won't have a huge voice as only one of two parties will win, but you have to try to change things. A lot of people think it's pointless voting for minority parties, but it's worth starting the conversation. You've got to start somewhere.

Bridget Minamore, London


My parents are from Ghana, one of the first African countries to gain independence from Britain; they believe that if you have the means and the opportunity to vote, you should use it. For me, deciding who to back in the general election wasn't so much a case of who I like, as a case of who I don't like – and I can't stand David "Call me Dave" Cameron. There's something so smug and untrustworthy about that man.

I want to believe that whoever is next in government would act in my best interest, that they'd take on board the issues that affect me. That's what I think about whenever I look at the two leaders, but when I hear David Cameron talk, it's like he is speaking to someone else. I can't relate to him, so how could he understand who I am or where I'm coming from?

I'm sceptical about politics in general. In the past there may have been genuine choice for voters in Britain, but now the two main parties have both shifted towards the centre to the point that they're pretty much the same, and I can't see any way to decide between them that is not based on personalities.

In my view, there are three types of young voter: the first won't vote, point blank, because they're not interested; the second understands the issues that matter to them; and the third wants to vote for the sake of it – to be able to say, "I'm 18 now and I've voted" – and these are the most easily impressionable. My mum and dad have always encouraged me to think things through and make an informed, independent decision, so it scares me to see how many people my age are basing their choice for this election on sensational media stories.

The media has been harsh on Gordon Brown. Every time you open one of the free newspapers, there's something bad being said about the present Government, and that has a serious impact on young people who read them. Most of my friends who are voting Labour have made up their own minds, whereas those who are going to vote Conservative are doing so based on something they've read.

Lauren Morton, Surrey


My older brother is involved with Conservative Future [formerly the Young Conservatives], but it was my own decision to vote Tory. Recently I applied to university and our careers adviser at school said how hard it will be to get a place with all the cut-backs due to the recession. The Conservatives have said they'll create 10,000 more university places if they get in power.

I'm not sure that Labour handled the recession in the right way. They instigated panic by saying early on that we were in a recession. If they'd handled it differently, they'd be in a better position now.

Among my peers there is a degree of political awareness, but there could certainly be more. If someone hasn't studied politics at school, they'll need to have an independent interest in order to really understand how it all works, but in reality not many teenagers would sit down for an hour a week and work out what a politician has said. Although I'm not taking politics at A-Level, there are nine of us in my sixth form who are members of the Politics, Business and Economics Society. We hold events based around politics, which is how I've got my insight.

I'm at boarding school so my experience might be slightly different, but in the evenings no one in my year sits down and watches the news; I'd say that 50 or even 60 per cent wouldn't even know how close the polls are at the moment. If one thing's to blame it is the off-putting way politics is sometimes presented; it's a case of how much information there is – or isn't – available in digestible form. If someone turns on the news and doesn't know anything about politics, they'll hear what is being discussed and think, "What are they talking about?" – and switch off.

In one of the glossy magazines this month they had an article which took some of the key policies and explained in a few words what each party proposed for each. That was really helpful; a lot of people in my year picked up on it. If we want younger people to get involved in politics, we need to present information in a clear and palatable form.

Lewis Miller, Kirriemuir


Times have changed, and the way we engage with issues that matter to us has changed too. Today, for a lot of people my age, political parties are an out-of-date concept, and not very useful. Lots of young people have opinions and views but they're not necessarily party-political ones, and they tend to express them in different ways: blogging on the internet, joining online interests groups, and communicating remotely with like-minded people around the country.

There seems to be an idea that the next generation is politically inactive or just not interested in the world, but that's not true. There are those who are only interested in fashion and what the next celebrity is up to – but that applies to people of all ages.

Many young people care about politics and want to make things happen. I'm really proud to have my vote and I'm excited to use it. It's sad that where I live is a marginal Scottish National Party/ Conservative seat, so if I vote Labour it doesn't mean much, but I still will out of principle. I'm excited about the prospect of an alternative system being introduced in the future so that votes aren't wasted.

Politicians rarely tell the entire truth, so I form my decision based on who has the best record for helping the poor and for providing opportunities. I've changed my mind over time. I wasn't a big fan of Tony Blair when he was in power but as I've been reading what he did to help the minimum wage, increase employment and the numbers of students in university, I've warmed to him. I've always felt Gordon Brown is less of a personable man, someone who concentrates on his work. He comes across as someone who is quite selfless, with good values.

For most young people, the most important thing is the prospect of getting a job and having a happy life, and these are the issues that will ultimately engage us. I've always told myself that life should be about making people happy. If you can get it right, politics seems to be the best way to do that, so once I've finished my degree, I want to build a career helping to improve the existing political system.

Prateek Nalwaya, Staffordshire


I know that either Labour or Conservative will win the election, but I still think you should vote according to your beliefs. When deciding who to vote for I looked at a few key aspects which interest me: the economy, health and education. I'd been put off the two main parties as they seem to put more importance on how they say something rather than what they say, and I wanted another option. A friend suggested I look at the Green Party, who I'd never heard of – and once I'd done some reading, I found that in many areas we share the same views.

In order to restore the economy, the Greens have proposed to regulate the banks and close the tax loopholes. They have made specific plans unlike Labour and Conservative who seem reluctant to commit to a strong policy. I'm hoping to study medicine at university, so I'm interested in health. I agree with the Greens' idea of going ahead with sales of NHS services, and of some hospitals to private companies, because if you introduce an element of privatisation it will encourage competition. I'm all for making access to health services public – we need to look after everyone; after all, free healthcare is a right not a privilege – but if you introduce a bit of privatisation into the market it will increase efficiency. If we don't, doctors, especially surgeons, will continue to move to America where they can make more money.

The Greens want a shift in the direction of education; they promote non-academic as well as academic achievement. At the moment it's all about statistics and league tables, but it's important that children are given the freedom to think things through for themselves, rather than just being taught to pass exams; otherwise we're creating a generation of people who are good at remembering things for a short period of time, but can't make their own decisions in the long term. If you encourage kids to think more freely, to be more individual, it will give them better prospects, which will in turn allow the economy to grow, ensuring a better future.

Rochelle Williams, London

Not voting

It's important to have an understanding of what's going on in the world, but unless something directly affects me, I try not to dwell on it too much. I'd rather spend my time getting a decent education and bettering myself instead of waiting around for politicians to fix everything for me.

I can't see how voting will make anything better in my life, but that doesn't mean I'm apathetic. There are plenty of issues I care about, like securing free transport for young people, improving the benefit system, increasing jobs and improving the economy in a recession – but it's all too much for one party to fix.

I don't know much about specific party policies, but I know that politicians concentrate on what they want to concentrate on, which aren't necessarily the same things that matter to ordinary people. The decisions that the Government makes affect everyone, but I'm not seeing a difference between any of the parties and I don't believe things will necessarily improve whoever's in power. There are much more productive ways to improve your situation than by voting.

If political systems and government was something that was taught more at school I'd probably have more of an understanding about how it all works, but I doubt I'd have more of an interest. I'd rather get on with the things that do affect me – like my own education and training – than worry about the big picture. At the moment I'm doing a music-based apprenticeship, and I've learnt so much already. There are only a few basic jobs that everybody hears about at school – being a lawyer or a doctor, and so on – but that's not everybody's dream and you don't always learn about other options.

When I do hear the news, the main parties always seem to be talking about bettering the employment situation and the education system – and it's still just not happening, so my way of doing that for myself is by going to school when I've got lessons, and leaving there with the qualifications I need to get myself the job I want to do.

Joe Sheedy, Nottingham


When i first got involved with the Conservative Party two and a half years ago, I didn't know much about politics. I became interested through watching the news, and joined the party online; soon after I was invited to my first meeting, and it went from there.

This year I'm standing as a local councillor in Wigan, which traditionally was a Labour stronghold. Until 1999, we didn't have a single member on Wigan town council – now we have 11, but you do still definitely get the feeling that you're one standing against the many.

I consider myself a conservative first and a Conservative Party member second. I don't think this is an issue any of the main parties deal with very well; I'd appreciate a harder line – for one we need a referendum to decide whether or not we should leave the EU.

In some respects ours is one of the least politically aware generations – but we are also one of the angriest. There is a lot of adversity to political systems, parties and leaders. Even though we're big on issues – young people like to go on about global warming, for example – we won't engage in debates. It seems we're all for protesting and shouting out about issues, without any sensible discussion.

National debt is a big issue for people my age; we're the ones who'll be paying it off. Regarding the EU, I'm not a fan of the way they've taken control of British people without their consent. I think that 18 years old is the right age at which to get the vote – I don't think it should be any lower. Young people are prone to making rash decisions; one of the biggest problems is people voting based on what they see in one news headline. Often I try to engage my peers in discussions about politics, but it can be difficult. People tend to have ideas set in their head without having any real awareness.

It is very important that people vote when they have the chance. At the end of the day, people died in this country so that we would have the right to vote, and there are still people in the world who'll never have the chance to influence anything.

Helen Longstreth, Bath


I'm going to vote Labour not because I have a massive calling, but rather because they're the party my family have always voted for. Plus I don't like the Conservatives, and as far as I can see, those are the only two options.

I was reading an interview with David Cameron in Glamour magazine recently and it was really, really cringey. I think he was trying to be "down with the kids" but actually he just came across as a bit slimy. The Conservatives are trying really hard to win over the younger vote, and their tactics are quite transparent. The new image the Conservatives are trying to cultivate isn't very convincing. While I don't necessarily believe the party has changed, it's even more off-putting that they're making such an effort to be "cool".

I feel a bit sorry for Gordon Brown. I think he's trying but it's all a bit of a lost cause for him. From the beginning he had a lot to deal with. Blair going to war in Iraq damaged the reputation of the party, and that rubbed off on the Chancellor when he took over. On top of that he's had the economic crisis to deal with – it wasn't ever going to be easy.

In terms of individual policies, I'm not sure of the differences between Labour and Conservative. I know from studying Politics at AS Level that in both cases it's more about getting public support than anything else. Neither has much to set them apart at the moment. Labour isn't the same as it originally was – they're a lot less socialist now – while the Tories are trying to act more liberal.

It's hard to say what would make politics more appealing to younger people. A lot of us are turned off because what we hear talked about in the news doesn't really seem that interesting or relevant to our everyday lives. If you aren't working or paying taxes, it's hard to think about how political decisions will affect you in the long run. Anyway, it doesn't really feel like you have much control whatever you do to get involved; even if you cast your vote, then you still won't have much of an effect on what the Government does once it's in power.

Kiran Kaur, London


In order to vote you have to have a clear understanding of what the different parties are offering – and I don't have a clue. It's really hard to understand each of the various policies because they're not laid out clearly anywhere as far as I can tell. Besides, all the reports in the media about the expenses scandal has put me off voting full stop. I just think: would it really make any difference which party is in power? They're all corrupt.

Young people are confused about politics and unclear on who to vote for – but we're also the most important group, because we're the future. The main parties holding a televised debate is a good idea in order to help get their ideals and messages across to my generation; it would also be a good idea to use Facebook and Twitter. I know some parties are using them already to recruit members, but maybe if they made more of an effort to outline their key policies and ideas on these sites then young people could more easily access the information they need to make an informed decision.

Our generation has a bit of a raw deal. Although there are definitely more opportunities now in many ways, society seems to be going backwards, with us having to pay more and more for our education. We're already paying so much for university, and now they're talking about making it even more expensive.

In the main, adults take their ideas about young people from the media, based on stereotypes, but all too often these are really negative. We're always hearing terminology like "yobs" and "hoodies" and associations between young people and gun and knife crime are constantly exaggerated in the press. Why do they always focus on the negative?

If you look for yourself, you'll see that a lot of positive stuff is going on across the country. I work on a youth magazine and I'm constantly being forwarded information about projects run for and by young people. The media seems to want to dwell on all the bad things that happen but that just sends out a negative message – and that takes away hope.

Amy Williams, Bangor

Not voting

I won't be voting this year because our politicians are full of lies. They've been committing criminal offences with their expense claims right under our noses, and I don't think it's right. They keep making false promises too, saying they have the answers to fixing the economy, but I don't trust any of them. Where's all this money they keep talking about coming from? It's make-believe. Neither of the main parties can fix the recession because there isn't the money available to do the things that they need to do.

It's always been about Labour and Conservatives for me. My family have voted Labour every year without fail, and they'll be expecting me to vote with them this year – but I won't be. How can I vote for a party if I can't believe what it's telling me? Everything's changing for the worse, and I'm really worried about the world I'm heading into. I'm worried that this recession will ruin my life.

Everyone needs prospects, and mine have been shattered. I've always had my heart set on joining the police force in North Wales but with public spending the way it is, they don't have the finances to recruit at the moment, so they aren't taking in anywhere near the numbers of new officers that they were. I don't think the situation will have improved by the time I graduate, so my whole career is at stake. And the price of housing now is stupid. I'm renting at the moment and that's still really expensive; when I leave university I expect I'll be living with my parents for a long time.

From a government I expect things like making sure that education is safe, so that when I have kids they will get the highest quality schooling they can, and that the NHS has got enough money to support the elderly and the vulnerable. It's the basic things that matter. But at the moment I don't know who will deliver that best. I don't want to make a decision at this time as neither parties are giving us enough information about what they intend to do. They're all too busy trying to put the sunniest face on the future of our economy, and I don't buy it.

Ellen Brown, East Sussex

Lib Dem

I've had to make a quick decision on who to vote for. I considered the major parties and felt that on balance the Liberal Democrats would be the most sensible vote, and the one which most supports the way I feel. I'm not a fan of the Labour Party at the moment. Gordon Brown isn't as much of a charismatic leader as Tony Blair, and I think some of the choices he made as Chancellor, like selling all the gold reserves, were unpopular. As a face of the party he doesn't come across in the same way as Blair did. And I can't imagine living under the Conservatives full stop.

Lib Dem seems like a good middle ground; it's also the most sensible route to take without throwing away my vote. I might have voted for a smaller party if I felt there was any hope of them getting in. I do think there's quite a strong chance the Lib Dems will be elected; Labour has lost a lot of votes recently.

Some people think that the Lib Dems are a bit of a joke, that if they were voted in they wouldn't know what to do, but I think given the chance, Clegg would step up to the pressure. Even if you don't think they'll win this time, it's important to vote for them to sow the seeds for next time.

Most of my friends realise the importance of having your say. Where I live is mostly a Tory area, and the views of the kids here tend to reflect the views of their parents – even if they don't say so directly. I don't know if voting Tory is anything people my age feel ashamed of, but I think it's harder to defend yourself if you say you're going to vote right wing, which is why they choose to keep quiet.

Environmental issues are a big thing for people my age. We're the ones who have to live with the damage, and the ones the Government can get to with their policies. As a younger person sometimes you do feel that parties are trying to sell you their policies – I even got a birthday card from the Conservative Party on my 18th. Financially, I don't think we need to be alarmed, however. Recession is a natural thing in the market. In fact, until Nick Griffin's in power, I don't think we need worry about much at all.

Lee Allen, Derby


Just before the general election of 2005, when I was in year nine, our year held a mock election at school. Beforehand, my class was called to a meeting and told that each of us could represent any party we liked in the debate. I chose the Conservative Party and spent a long time researching the ideologies and policies of the three main parties. From watching the news and flicking through the red-top newspapers, I started forming my own opinions, and thinking in depth about issues like the European Union, crime and immigration. I later found out these are the values that UKIP stands for too, and became a supporter of the party about six months ago.

My granddad is strongly opposed to immigration – to the point where he does come across as somewhat outdated. Although my opinions don't mirror his exactly – I'm much more integrated into a multi-cultural society and more accepting of different views than he is – I can see why he is angry. People of different ethnicities are moving in and foreign labour is taking over British jobs. My granddad and I also agree on issues such as workers' rights and being sceptical of the EU. We've gone from having our own industry and controls on our borders in this country to the system we have today which totally lacks sovereignty and any form of independence.

I'm not involved in UKIP directly, but I am a keen supporter and have just returned from my first conference. It was something I felt it was my duty to do; I wanted to meet other supporters, see what the party was was really like and meet the UKIP speakers I've seen talking on clips on YouTube. Afterwards, I felt really inspired by what was said.

It's difficult to know how much support the party will get at the general election, as our position is constantly changing. If we can get a foot in the door with two or three MPs in this election, who says that in the next election people won't see UKIP as a more serious threat and a possible alternative to the failing political system we see every night on the news?

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