Although the general election was mooted as a possibility – I had advised clients ahead of May that an election might be called – it has nonetheless shaken up working life.
As a young public affairs professional, a lot of my time is spent advising clients on the impact of political developments and delivering public affairs strategies. You can never fully plan for all news announcements, and our work is often reactive. However, longer-term public affairs strategies were drafted on the qualified assumption that no snap election would be called.
The calling of a snap general election shifts the focus away from long-term planning and delivery to shorter deadlines. For example, I had been working on a campaign that aimed to secure 100,000 signatures for a government petition by 6 July – but suddenly the deadline had to be brought forwards by two months to the 3rd June.
Every day I find myself monitoring the development of each party’s political campaign and considering what a sizeable majority might mean for clients and their overarching strategies. My friends however, most whom are far removed from the Westminster bubble, are asking how they register to vote.
Despite pleading with a friend in Birmingham to exercise their vote in the recent regional mayoral election, they messaged me on the day to say they had failed to register on time. By drawing attention to this incident I do not intend to criticise, but merely highlight that my own experience of elections is far-removed to most twenty-somethings.
I am paid to keep abreast of political developments. Friends of mine are not. Instead, they rely on political parties and friends to engage them in the political debate. So far, the Tories have failed to engage the youth vote; the cynic in me thinks they are not trying very hard to address this either.
In five to ten year’s time, the decision to ignore the youth vote this time around could be seen as the biggest political miscalculation in a generation. As the go-to person amongst friends and family for political questions, more have contacted me ahead of this election than they ever did for the 2015 election or the referendum last year. This could simply be because more now understand what I do for work, or it could be because they feel they have been ignored and are wanting change.
Most of my friends are aged 22 to 27 and voted to remain in the European Union, exactly like me. A surprising number are deserting the Labour party, largely because of the perceived unelectability of Jeremy Corbyn, and the Tories, because of Theresa May’s pursuit of a hard Brexit. However, if they want to make a difference they need to be registered to vote and exercise it on polling day.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party running on an anti-Brexit platform, having promised a second referendum on EU membership. Together with Labour and the Green Party – the so-called ‘Progressive Alliance’ – they are trying to engage younger voters. Political parties cannot do this alone however. Considering the number of 16 and 17-year-olds on the electoral roll has plunged by 27 per cent in three years, drastic action is needed.
I am encouraged to see that Uber customers will be urged to register to vote, and this is just one of many initiatives being run by Bite the Ballot. However, until politicians begin to grapple with the real reasons why young people are typically disengaged with politics they will be unable to connect with this key demographic of voters. Policy will continue to be made by those that the young did not vote for, in the interest of those that are not young, and apathy will continue.