I was 33 when I voted for the first time, due entirely to the fact that I was living incognito, my fear of being nabbed by the police stopping me from at least four elections. But there I was, ready to go to electoral war with Margaret Thatcher in 1979, sitting up all night to listen to the radio and witnessing her receipt of the mandate to form a government.
Last week, I sat up with my youngest son – who will not be eligible for a vote for another six years, if they keep the aged 18 threshold – and received a text that my eldest son had voted for the first time. Although my eldest son could not be seen as an affectionate follower of Russell Brand, he had up until last week largely taken the same political posture as him; seeing the vote as useful as a ‘chocolate teapot’.
Young people realised that so much was happening in their name, that they should do something about it
And then, of course, on the Tuesday days before the election, The Big Issue and UNILAD live-streamed an interview with Jeremy Corbyn, which may have helped stir more people into voting.
It all seemed as if young people had realised that so much was happening in their name that they might have to do something about it. And their capturing of the Labour Party a few years earlier, with their Corbyn groundswell of support seemed to put the kibosh on the laid-back ‘fuck’um’ school of politics.
Unlike in most elections there was this sense that the young were all over the place. The Big Issue’s partnering with UNILAD, apparently the largest online youth platform in the world, was a demonstration of that. And what a load of fun it was to watch! I don’t hand out many brownie points, being a classic old git, but I was truly proud when I saw Jeremy and our UK editor, Paul McNamee, chewing the cud over policy.
The Big Issue campaigned to get every candidate to say outright what they would do to dismantle poverty in their local area, and how they would prevent it from happening. We have an enormous file of all of those comments and promises. And it was not done simply to get empty promises out of the electoral debate.
If it was just to log promises never kept, then, yes, one might well class the election as a ‘chocolate teapot’ election. But we had a more serious and long-term plan.
And that is to build a Prevention Alliance that runs after the election. That whatever the result, we would do our best to unite Parliament and constituency, college and workplace, Job Centre and hospital waiting room, classroom and disco, library and cornershop, behind the idea that we need to build an apparatus for change.
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Not just get people out to vote from their everyday life, but to keep them out, keep them active, keep them forever changing and challenging for change.
A change that would unite people behind dismantling poverty, fighting against austerity and the purgatory it placed on those least able to absorb cuts. Yes! To take Representational Democracy and add to it Participatory Democracy; and bolt on a permanent activism that does not like a high tide recede at low tide.
There is a real need to convert a newfound political voice into a truly Cognitive Democracy
Bite the Ballot and dozens of other activist groups that get young people out to vote played a big role in all of this. And, perhaps like Jeremy himself, what is significant is that they were there to enable more and more people to see the significance of their vote, and voting.
But we at The Big Issue will be keeping the pressure up. There is a real need to convert enthusiasm and a newfound political voice into a truly Cognitive Democracy; a democracy where we all know the big issues of the day, and what to do about them. And are involved, participating in democracy.
No longer happy to leave it all to others. Who, in your name, can do things that you wouldn’t wish on the world.