By Chloe Smith MP.
The majority of today’s 18-24 year olds are not voting. Only 44% turned out in 2010 and, since then, at worst, 88% expressed that they don’t plan to vote. There is evidence to suggest this situation is more extreme than it has been for previous generations of young citizens, and that Britain’s problem is worse than elsewhere in Europe and the US.
2015’s first time voters have “a considerable aversion to formal, professional politics” – but they are interested in political affairs and are doing different activities including some outstanding community projects. They want confidence in what politics is for. Meanwhile, politicians need to gain young voters’ trust, communicate effectively and deliver results in policy.
So what are the right things to do, in policy? Focus on the economy, education and the major intergenerational issues. And take a radical look from the consumer’s perspective in order to understand and communicate.
2015’s first-timers have already been asked what the single most important issue is to them. Nearly a third of the 1,000-strong sample in 2011 said to prioritise the various parts of education (including 18% naming higher education tuition fees). The same number is concerned about employment and finance. A very broad set of other issues were named at very small percentages of support.
Like other generations, the young have different views based on needs, political instincts, geography and financial situation. I’m a member of Generation Y and also a liberal Conservative – I don’t believe in labelling people any which way. But if you look at the research there are some common perspectives, like trust, fair help, information and honesty. I believe passionately that the Conservative Party can be the home for Generation Y because we hold the principles of the small state, responsible economics, freedom, enterprise and social liberalism. Those principles matter for this generation as they have always mattered – and we can have them through our vote, our action and our leadership.
I also believe that an important reform is in the very way that we vote. It is an extremely unusual thing for Generation Y not to be able to do something online. We shop, we bank, we date, we chat, we organise with ease. However, we register and vote entirely on paper. Not only is this alien to young people, and indeed to anyone who appreciates the capability of the internet, but it is also ineffective for those who wish to market their product. As politicians we communicate online with people all the time but we lack the final “one-click” to clinch the deal when the time comes. Of course there are security and cost considerations, but those pertain to paper voting too. This is too obvious an area for reform to ignore if politicians are to think and act anything like the new generation which will grow to dominate.
Generation Y’s community campaigning is practical, relevant, goal-oriented and flexible. Politics can and does work like that too – but it’s no cake-walk to persuade my generation to give traditional politics attention. Generation Y demands less hierarchy, less open-ended commitment, less party line than any traditional party has been used to. Politics has to adapt. We have to help new-style campaigners get results in their communities; have to help online activists articulate a vision for how things should be, and make that vision happen. We have to help young people run the country.
Chloe Smith is a Conservative Party politician and the Member of Parliament for Norwich North.
 Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67
 Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67. It’s worth noting a statistical point here. In typical large scale polls where you might expect a thousand or two of adults in a sample, there are rarely enough people in any given age bracket of that sample to be statistically significant. Relatively few studies take the time to go in depth into an age bracket’s interests, so this work by Henn and Foard is rare and helpful. The annual survey of youth brands tells us a bit more about the cohort too – Voxburner, collates data on the brands that young people want to work for or buy from.