Should I Stay Or Should I Go?: On The EU Referendum
Ailsa writes and rambles about disenchantment with Westminster politics and enchantment with empathy.
Are you #votin? Me neither. I’ll be voting on 23rd June instead.
Are you #votin? Me neither. I’ll be voting on 23rd June instead.
In spite of the patronising tone of the campaigns to involve me, as an official Young Person, in the EU Referendum. In spite of the fact that all the ‘facts’ I’ve read are so biased. In spite of fear mongering instead of hope being, once again, used to chase people into the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ camps.
I’m very aware that I have gone full circle in how I tackle the responsibility of deciding whether the UK should be part of the EU or not. Beginning at gut feeling, I progressed onto attempting to inform myself whilst trying to remain aware and critical of my own initial bias, failed to find unbiased information, attempted to swim a little in the crashing ocean of opinions and then decided to stick to what I know floats: my gut feeling.
…it has given us the responsibility of a decision that we will never be given the information to understand.
Having talked to a fair few people, this is very much not a unique experience. The consensus amongst my friends and colleagues of my age group is that none of us feel we know enough about this issue to be making a decision on it.
One of these people has not registered to vote because of this. Another said, ‘The one thing about the EU referendum that I can agree with 100% is that it never should have been a referendum. It is the wrong format for a decision that is so complex with such far reaching consequences that to turn it into a popularity contest, especially one that encourages blind rallying around the idea of Britishness, seems troublesome. In no way has this referendum given power to the people: it has given us the responsibility of a decision that we will never be given the information to understand.’
I agree. The both of us are still voting. Along with most people I know.
‘In no way has this referendum given power to the people: it has given us the responsibility of a decision that we will never be given the information to understand.’
Voting seems to be motivated, not by a passion for our democratic system but, by fear of what will happen if we don’t. That voting is happening despite a strong feeling of disenchantment with Westminster politics, a bitterness directed at the baby boomer generation, and a resignation to –at least for now– attempting to make the best of an outdated and increasingly irrelevant political system.
Between 2008 and 2012, the average disposable income for 18-30 year olds fell 40%, from £569 to £343. At the same time, it fell for just 2% for those aged 30-49 (from £1490 to £1466) and increased by 6% and 13% for 50-64 year olds and those over 65 respectively. Tuition fees increased to £9000 in September of 2012 in spite of huge protests. Maybe, just maybe, that decision could have been justified if it wasn’t the case that more than half of the UK’s graduates are in non-graduate jobs. Unsurprisingly, young people are also becoming less and less hopeful of ever owning their own home. So when article after article is written by righteous older generations hectoring young people about how we should be more engaged is it little wonder that we feel more than a little resentment? When we are told in many ways that our worth is less because of our age –I’m looking at you, minimum wage age bands–, and are struggling to get by as a result, is it any wonder that we feel disengaged from Westminster politics? And from the generations before us who have done an excellent job of making ‘millennial’ a derogatory term.
‘I’m not sure I trust any politicians’
For many of my generation, survival is a political act. It is also an act that requires a huge amount of energy, ingenuity and time. There is a lot of frustration at what generations before us have done to the economy, housing market, welfare state and to Westminster by voting in a Tory government. Though a majority of us are not turning up at the polling stations, we are making your coffees, paying ever increasing rent, writing articles, protesting, raising awareness of a plethora of issues through, yes, social media and supporting one another throughout this all.
In Bristol alone there are a huge number of organisations either set up or helped run by young people.
In Bristol alone there are a huge number of organisations either set up or helped run by young people. From pioneering publications like gal-dem.com, the Bristol Cable and Nocturnal Magazine, to teenagers organising last year’s anti austerity protest, to running mental health campaigns and setting up wellbeing festivals, to co-ordinating campaigns like Bristol Cut The Rent and Students Not Suspects: young people are passionate about changing the world for the better. We’re just doing it on our own terms, in our own worlds.
Upon talking to my peers about how they feel about party politics there is one very strong uniting factor: ‘I don’t often believe what politicians say’; ‘I’m not sure I trust any politicians’, ‘it would take a very brave politician to commit to doing something long term and I don’t think we have anyone like that representing us’.
Again and again, politicians have broken promises…
Again and again, politicians have broken promises and that has taken its toll. I know that, for me, there are some politicians like the SNP’s Mhairi Black and, yes, Jeremy Corbyn, who give me hope. But they are very much the exception. On the whole, Westminster’s Etonian heritage, blinding whiteness, swaggering and sneering macho culture do an excellent job of implicitly and explicitly letting me and my peers know that we are not wanted nor taken seriously by our government. My main issue though, is the pervasiveness of entitlement over empathy. Grassroots politics may not have the hard power or money of government, but what it does have is hope and humanity. Until our politicians move their focus of interest from arms sales and demonising immigrants to genuinely caring about people and helping them, I’m going to keep my distance. I’ll keep on casting my votes, but my politics will be centred on people, not politicians.
Want to get more involved in local politics as a young person? Check out Bristol City Youth Council
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