As a young person who is being afforded the dual perspectives of working in public affairs and campaigning for a political party in this General Election, it seems to me that when it comes to young people, we preach one thing but do another.
Young people have been recently disappointed by the Liberal Democrats’ U-turn on tuition fees, overruled in their widely pro-European sentiment by their elders – and are now confronted with a snap general election which many consider politically motivated and called to cement a hard Brexit.
So politics has not been kind to young people lately – despite issues such as soaring housing costs, growing student debts and a rise in unpaid internships and insecure working conditions, which should make them a key target audience. Instead, millennials have been getting additional stick for their love of avocado toast.
This battering of the younger generations clashes markedly with a common practice of those of us who work in public affairs and PR – we invoke “young people” as we petition the government for policy change. From investing in the early years to give people the best possible “life chances”, to improving young people’s mental health, many commendable proposals seek investment in the next generations – and public affairs professionals everywhere are making the most of this Election to raise the profile of their cause in manifestos and campaigns. But the frequent invocation of young people as an important audience to policymakers has not yet translated to concrete political programmes which engage the young.
So while this Election is a major opportunity for those in public affairs, for young people it risks incurring further disillusionment with the very democratic process that public affairs seeks to improve.
Having suffered from campaign fatigue since 2014, we are again urged to vote and get the vote out, but confronted with slim pickings when it comes to a holistic vision for improving our start in life.
Much of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto seeks to appeal to young voters; but their recent record makes them an off-limits electoral choice for many. Labour offer policies catering to young people, but lack a coherent overall vision. The Conservatives’ focus on “ordinary working families” and “strong and stable leadership” hardly suggests their manifesto is designed to invigorate the young. Which is why many who fall into the often-cited “young people” category do not currently believe they can meaningfully improve their own lives through politics.
To begin to repair this disconnect between what we say and do about young people, we could do worse than raising the profile of policies that specifically tackle the widening generational chasm. And who knows — we may even unearth some more lively taglines in the process.