Young people stand to lose the most from Brexit – and they know it. Youth activist LEO BUCKLEY reports on an exclusive poll of 16-18 year-olds.
Nigel, if we end up with another referendum on Europe, you had better hope the young don’t get a vote. Despite what many say, the young are not politically apathetic. And what’s more, they are resolutely pro-European. That was made abundantly clear by a straw poll I recently conducted of 1,500 sixth-formers.
The results show they know they’ll suffer the disastrous consequences of Brexit, and they are overwhelmingly against it. When they get the chance, they will vote en masse for Remain. Labour and the Tories should take note.
I have been campaigning for young people for three years, as a Youth Parliament MP and as an anti-Brexit activist. So I decided to find out what the young really think about the key issues facing them. For two weeks, I spoke about politics in assemblies to around 4,000 college students. Then I asked them to tell me their three top priorities were, and how they’d vote if there were an election tomorrow.
Almost a third of young people put stopping Brexit as their first priority. (Support for Brexit came in at number six, with under 8% of the vote). The second big issue for young people – a huge potential vote winner for a political party that makes it a headline policy – was mental health: 20% of total support. Legalising marijuana was the third big vote-winner, on 14%. The environment received a surprisingly low 9%.
My second poll asked how people would vote – given the chance – in a general election. Labour led with 33%, and a five point lead over the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats and Greens both got into double digits, (17% and 14% respectively). Overtly pro-Brexit parties, collectively, saw 8%. Support for Change UK was negligible.
To see what would happen in a general election where only the young could vote, I entered the data into the Electoral Calculus website. The result indicated a hung parliament, with Labour – just – in power. The haemorrhage to the Lib Dems and the Greens, plus 6% to pro-Brexit parties, weakened Labour and, far more so, the Tories.
So the young are not quite the Jeremy Corbyn groupies we often hear about: there seems to be no great appetite for Labour’s Brexit fudge, and fully a third of those I surveyed were turning towards the Lib Dems and the Greens. Labour’s Brexit dividend will be a generation of young people totally alienated from their party.
Some 700,000 young people become eligible to vote every year. Political parties hoping to harvest those votes will do well to focus more on mental health and other issues highlighted in my survey. But the message over Europe is surely the most important for them to heed.
I later followed up my poll with another, simple question: “Do you want to stop Brexit and stay in the EU?” More than 80% replied ‘Yes’.
The European elections may be presented as a triumph for Farage – but there is hope for the Remain cause. A second referendum, if one can be secured, would see more 1.5 million more Remain votes from those who have become eligible to vote since 2016. (Drop the voting age to 16, and the figure tops 2.7 million.) Even without another referendum in the immediate future, the arrival of a pro-European generation is inescapable. However the current fiasco plays out, the young will be the ones leaning on Britain’s political tiller in the years ahead. Perhaps the UK’s future in Europe is in safe hands after all.