Standing Up for Others – The Green Party and the Youth Vote

Phoebe Corbett-Stenson gives her view on why the Green Party could be the answer for young people – if only they would vote.

It’s fitting that in a recent speech I attended of Green Party leader Natalie Bennett’s, she apologised to the young students filling the audience. ‘Speaking on behalf of my generation to yours, I have to say I’m sorry. We’ve made a right mess of it.’ And it’s true: thanks to the economical state we’ve been left in by greying politicians and baby boomers controlling our pay checks or student loans, it’s not likely we’ll leave the renting trap until we’re facing forty. That’s a miserable thought. Also miserable is the extent of young people relying on Jobseeker’s Allowance, hardly a liveable sum as it is, after failing to find jobs that their vastly overpriced, trebled-in-fees degrees promised them. We’ll probably never pay off our student loans, but you all know this already. Futures feel bleak for twenty-somethings. It’s perhaps no wonder that young people seem less and less interested in politics, or even become downright disillusioned with the whole system. But is that a valid reason not to vote?

At last year’s European elections the UK saw the lowest ever youth turnout, and although it’s not shocking to know that as a majority we weren’t the ones to help right-wing Ukip gain seats, we weren’t the ones to stop them either. We are not letting our tired, angry voices be heard. It seems that everyone I talk to is riddled with opinions on how the system is failing us, but when I ask if they’ll be voting in the General Elections this May to make their voices count, they insouciantly shrug and say no, probably not. That’s exactly what 20-year-old Film student Aimee Prince says to me. ‘From what I’ve heard, different parties don’t do all that much for students, so why should I vote?’ She says her parents aren’t very political, and she wasn’t taught about politics in school, so questions where she’s supposed to learn about it ‘unless I really look into it myself? It’s never been an interest to me because I haven’t been influenced since a young age.’

A new poll by the Electoral Reform Society shows that up to 800,000 young people between 18-24 won’t even be able to vote this May, because they are not on the Electoral Roll. With individual registration now being introduced (it only takes 3 minutes, but yes, you have to register), there’s now another obstacle in the way of young voters.

Coming from a fairly political family and tight-knit group of activist friends, moving to university proved surprising. I began meeting people my age that knew little about politics, often unable to distinguish between the Lib Dems, Conservatives or Labour at all. I don’t say that to be patronising; since the Iraq war and tuition fee lies and money stealing, tax tweaking MPs, there is little difference anyway. As much as Labour would disagree, they’ve long since detached from their ‘party of the people’ status. Last year, Ed Miliband proudly proposed he would get rid of Jobseekers Allowance for under 21s altogether if he had the chance, pleasing the older lot who believe tough love is the best approach they (never) had. But why do the main political parties need to cater for us anyway, when they know from our absent voting habits we’re not the ones they need to impress? It’s far easier to serve the complacent older generation, who’ll no doubt be receiving their extra Winter Fuel Allowance next Christmas – even when sitting on a lifetime of savings. Who are those not relying on savings and pensions to heat their houses in the cold months? I can either brag, or regretfully confess, that since moving to a (mice-ridden) house last August, we haven’t had the heating on once. Whilst shivering and weeping into the shower every morning, I can rest assured that heating will not add to my burgeoning student debt. It’s both impressive and extremely depressing, depending on how you look at it.

Kunal Shah, chair of the Green Society and student trustee of the board of Portsmouth’s union, agrees that young people need to start taking the reigns back from the middle aged. ‘Old people are voting for themselves because they’ve got a few years left on the planet, but you’ve got the rest of your lives,’ he says. ‘It’s up to you to make your future bright.’ Kunal was fourteen when a lesson on deforestation sparked his interest in environmental issues. Arguing that politics and the environment are intrinsically entwined, despite not yet being a member, he’ll be campaigning for the Green Party this General Election. I ask him why he thinks the Greens could be a welcome change for the young at a loss with main party politics. He references some of their policies, ‘particularly rational ones around drugs, tuition fees and education,’ because the Greens have always campaigned for no university fees, as well as, often controversially, wanting to decriminalise cannabis. He mentions their policies ‘around climate change, because I think young people understand climate change.

Most of all though, the Greens lead on civil rights issues: from LGBT+ issues to race and gender issues, they’re well ahead of the game. From an inside values-led perspective rather than political ‘chasing the votes’, this is going with the times, and they’re genuine about that.” Meeting with a young guy who seems so passionate, I wonder why he thinks other people our age aren’t voting, and he reminds me that in Scotland, they did. ‘What the Scottish Referendum did was show us how elections should be run, as in you have communities getting together to debate the issues’ such as ‘in schools, teaching kids it’s their futures at stake at every election. They lowered the voting age to sixteen and had an 85% turnout.’

Historically speaking, the young have been the ones at the forefront of protests and revolutionary freethinking, and seem to align more with left-wing politics. Recent prediction charts from YouGov revealed that unlike Green’s 7% share of the electorate right now, if it were down to 18-24 years olds the percentage would rise to 19%. This might seem small but the contrast is significant. In some constituencies this shift could make all the difference for the Greens, even though not assuring, by any means, a majority.

When I speak with Fareham Green Party candidate Miles Grindey on a rainy Sunday afternoon, he suggests that young people now are not as involved in voting ‘because a lot of older people have had to be more involved in the system’ He tells me of the policies he believes appeal to the young, like the reinstatement of EMA, increasing social housing and their anti-war stance, ‘to name a few. Every day I meet young people who are so fed up with the current system. The Green Party provides the politics of hope, a better (and more sustainable) future.’ A politician’s answer, yes, but 20-year-old Grindey holds a rare perspective of politics, being the youngest candidate running in the General Election this year. He says the Green Party are inspiring the younger generation to vote ‘by giving them a viable alternative to austerity, fear and defeat.’ He remarks that they provide people’with candidates who are more human than the other parties,’ ones who have ‘compassion and conviction, who can empathise and actually work for you and your community.’ His point about being ‘human’ is an important one. An unemployed graduate, wishing to stay anonymous, recently told me that she doesn’t ‘feel clever enough to vote.’ She seemed intimidated by the idea, as though her thoughts and feelings weren’t valid.

Certainly, the influential women at the forefront of the Greens, namely leader Natalie Bennett and Brighton MP Caroline Lucas, come across as likeable, relatable characters. Compared to Cameron and the like they seem starkly different, cheerily posing in their campaign poster with the caption: What are you afraid of, boys? No matter the party, crucial feminist voices are needed in the boys’ club of parliament. After watching Bennett’s speech, I arrange to talk to Joe Levy, Publicity Officer for University of Exeter Green Party Society. He chaired and chief organised Bennett’s talk there, and believes her to be ‘a brilliant leader, largely because of her approach to local politics. She must travel more than any other party leader (by train of course) and uses this as an opportunity to interact with local communities.’

It’s notable, though, that after begging prominent Green politician and Baroness Jenny Jones for a quote, her response was underwhelming. She insisted there were others ‘more current with young people’s views,’ so couldn’t comment. Ah, politicians. You would think young people’s views are human views: the wish for fair treatment and for a liveable future. Nevertheless, the Greens still appear to be fighting our corner, a corner often untouched and garnering only dusty cobwebs of debt. When I ask Joe Levy why he votes, he cites a proverb told to him by his Grandad: If I don’t stand up for others, who will stand up for me?

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.