The era of the UK’s political ambivalence is over
British politics is undergoing such intense flux that everyone, even those completely removed, has been forced to take notice. This election has been a kind of awakening – and a cause for hope.
With a more alert and politically engaged population- something that has truly come about- more reflective and effective democracy that truly brings about our population’s interests is on the precipice of inception.
In a trend at odds with the informational and communicative advances brought about by the internet, voter apathy has stayed steady year on year for most of the last 20 years. Perhaps it is due to an over-saturation of information that makes it difficult to agree with any one opinion- but regardless of its cause, the current move toward widespread political involvement seems more reflective of the world we live in than the political climate has ever been before.
The reasons for this shift have been catalogued in thousands of articles in hundreds of publications at this point. The Brexit vote’s surprising result, and its narrow margin, highlighted in the minds of many the importance of our democratic process; the unarguably inspirational and yet supposedly unelectable Jeremy Corbyn exceeded everyone’s expectations, including his own supporters’, in the recent general election; and, serving only to drive home her opposition’s message of hope, Theresa May handled this election (and every matter significant to the public’s interests during it) so poorly that most seemed sure she would be forced by her own party to resign. Even her actions to cling onto power have sparked outrage, with the £1 billion price tag on the Conservative’s deal with the DUP concerning many.
“The DUP – who are getting the final say on forming a government – got fewer votes than the Lib Dems, SNP, Greens and UKIP. Surely that isn’t right”, said Georgia Grace, a second-year History student at Sussex. This statement, I feel, reflects an increase in critical examination of our democratic model and its results that is unprecedented in student consciousness.
My experience as a student was of an election in which the ideological and personal battle already seemed to be won, but the consciousness of those voting had not had time to let this victory sink in. It might seem like I’m trying to claim that the values of the left are intrinsically superior, which I’m very much not – but even the most steadfast supporter of the Conservatives had to finally admit, upon viewing the exit poll on election night, that May’s major political battle was against herself: and it was one she lost badly. Perhaps as a result, Labour gained seats for the first time in a general election since the year I was born.
This, to me, signals a powerful political awakening in our nation. It is also one I attribute in large part to the burgeoning political interest of students and young voters. While the 18-24 demographic has remained apparently apathetic in previous elections, with turnout often far below 50 percent, we saw this year a substantial increase in overall voters- and this new vote went almost exclusively to Labour. “It makes sense that someone like Jeremy Corbyn would have an impact on someone- no matter their age- who wouldn’t normally find politics interesting”, said Georgia Grace.
And of the major parties, Labour were the only one who saw an increase in youth voters in this election- a surge showing the youth vote for their party at around 20% higher than it was two years ago. This, along with Labour’s overall election result, has given me cause for a huge amount of hope for the direction of UK politics- and in this I do not feel alone.
In a conversation with first-year Biological Sciences student Ben Ward, attending the University of Surrey, he identified “the fact that the Brexit vote got through in the first place” as being a sort of tipping point in our political consciousness. “It was surely surprising enough to warrant more people paying more attention to this election”, he told me: and while a major factor, the 48% of people who voted to remain were not the only ones paying more attention.
“I’d become bored of politics before: this election re-sparked my interest”, said Jonathan Stokes, a second-year History student at Warwick. This is something I’ve heard from many: there was something about this election that captured people’s attention and wouldn’t let it go. Whether you attribute this to May’s sequential failings, Corbyn’s fierce resilience and rising confidence, or anything else you might think significant, it’s undeniable that there’s been a shift from apathy to interest, from ambivalence to alertness, in the last few years. While my happiness at the fact that we’ve gradually and still only nearly climbed back up to the number of voters we had in 1997 seems like it should be cause for concern in itself, it signals the end of a slump period of intense apathy.
And it is this which seems to strike the final chord in the tune of the United Kingdom’s shift towards true political consciousness. A tragedy that can be pinned all too easily on measures of austerity, and the severity of which cannot be ignored, has ignited beyond the point of being easily repressed a significant increase in voters’ awareness along with a radical distrust of current authority. While our news coverage is certainly not unbiased, the number of angry and disillusioned voices has become too great to drown out with careful punditry and selective representation.
Perhaps this is a brief surge in interest that will result in no upheaval, no revolution of democratic processes and no ultimate significance at all. I’m inclined, though, to think sincerely that the opposite is true. Politics has become something different to our nation in recent months. The number of times I’ve recently heard the phrase “tired of politics” has declined drastically, despite the near omnipresence of the election in media. I think we’re on the brink of the final death knoll of political disinterest in our nation, and it couldn’t make me any happier- or more hopeful.
Image: Wikimedia Commons