On May 7th, I have decided that I shall not vote. Though half of the reason is due to ineligibility to vote as a mere 17-year-old, the other half is that I, like a vast number of young people feel disenfranchised from the archaic system of British parliamentary democracy.
Some people will immediately react with disgust, saying that we must hold our nose and vote for a party that offers no systemic change to our democracy. Others will say that the generations that fought for the vote before us have entrusted us with a moral duty to engage in formal democracy. Some will just spit at us, accusing us of not being ‘bothered’ with democracy, and saying we have ownership over the false promises of politicians for being so damn apathetic.
But the real reason for our disengagement is that we are the most politically literate generation there has ever been, and our exposure to politics online, socially and through celebrities provides us with a deep understanding of our political system and yet with a deep sense of contempt for its current manifestation.
Why? British democracy remains in another age; its mechanisms and peculiarities are foreign to the youth. The last revolutionary change to parliament was women’s suffrage over 100 years ago. And though generations have come and gone, wars have been fought, and a digital age has dawned; our democracy still adheres to the dogmatic rules put in place by our ancestors. For the youth to identify with parliament, our democracy must become participatory, must evolve and must upgrade.
But what does that mean? I think it means that we must abandon what no longer works. The days of strong majority governments has ended, 2010 gave us the first peacetime coalition in the history of British democracy, and likewise bookies are saying that May 2015 will be the most unpredictable election ever. The collapse in party membership and identification with mainstream politics has given the British people a truly pluralistic democracy, where nationalism, environmentalism, euroscepticism and opposition to austerity all offer a new degree of choice. However, our electoral system works to suppress the voice of the electorate forcing us to vote tactically in marginal seats, vote pointlessly in safe seats and vote for the same stagnant politics everytime.
The First Past The Post electoral system is highly undemocratic and favours larger parties with concentrated support whilst rendering the efforts of smaller dispersed parties politically irrelevant. We are out of step with most other european democracies with our outdated, disproportionate electoral system. While proportional representation would give parties like Ukip and the Greens (on about 15% and 8% of the vote) around 100 and 52 seats respectively, with FPTP, such parties will receive under 10 seats at the mos, whilst even the Lib Dems, who languish on 8% of the vote, are to receive up to 20 seats. Who dares support such an undemocratic, archaic electoral system? To engage young people. we must feel that our vote counts, that if we vote for a radical party, then our divergent views will be represented; an evolution of our electoral system is a necessity to accommodate the next generation of politics.
What’s more astonishing is that our democracy has not even entered the 21st century. The complete absence of digital technology in the functions and institutions of british democracy serve to further disenfranchise young people. For a generation so accustomed to the immediacy of technology, is it any wonder why we are so unmotivated to queue up at a polling station? Why has our democracy been so unwilling to modernise and adopt online voting especially considering that it would greatly enthuse people of all ages, greatly increasing political participation.
When all you have to do is register online and vote via an app, that shows an embrace of modernity; an acceptance of progress. And why not create new avenues for political participation utilising social media and online forums? Tools like Reddit, Twitter and Snapchat connect far better with young people, instantly and in an accessible manner, we need more digital democracy.
When British politics finally receives its long overdue upgrade embracing proportional representation, digital technology and votes at 16 , that’s when we’ll see young people at the vanguard of a representative, digital and youthful democracy.