Politicians face a ‘rude awakening’ from the next generation of voters

PUBLISHED: 15:00 13 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:59 13 November 2018

Young people head up the People's Vote March in London in October 2018. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

Young people head up the People's Vote March in London in October 2018. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

2018 John Keeble

16-year-old anti-Brexit campaigner ATHIAN AKEC writes about what it feels like to be a young person watching Brexit unfold.

I am a 16-year-old BAME person who cares deeply about his community, and I am watching a political catastrophe unfold in my city. Young Londoners like me are living in a time of turmoil.

The unrest is caused by the core political issue of today - Brexit - and the threat it poses to our public services and the multicultural way of life which underpins our world-leading city.

Wealth inequality is at a peak, leading to a large disparity between the life opportunities and outcomes of the richest and poorest young people. Due to a decade of austerity and public funding cuts, London’s young people are losing friends and family in the midst of a knife crime epidemic. All the while, xenophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric has become mainstream.

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Brexit will exacerbate these issues.

Thanks to London’s multiculturalism and diversity, I have the privilege of having friends from across the world - from Algeria to Albania, Poland to the Philippines, Rwanda to Russia. By using the rights of EU citizens as bargaining chips in the negotiations, the Prime Minister is placing at risk the lives of people who have long known the United Kingdom as home.

The Leave campaign exaggerated and misrepresented some very real problems, some of which were the result of austerity and the financial crash, placing unfair blame on immigrants, who in reality make a huge contribution to our economy and public services. This is not new, but it is dangerous.

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Time and time again, migrants have made possible much of British society, from the Windrush generation nurses who helped create the NHS post-WW2 to the French Huguenots escaping religious persecution who brought to Britain technological advancements.

As we risk closing the door on EU migrants who teach, who work in hospitals, who contribute to our society and communities in myriad ways, we are also closing the door on a brighter future for young people. fi

Brexit, by threatening London’s diversity, is placing at risk the future of young people who have never known anything else. Unless we hold the deal up to the people, Brexit will deepen the government’s hostile environment towards migrants, damaging our economy and worsening a crisis in opportunity for young people.

Much of this disparity in opportunity and life outcomes between young people rests on, and is a consequence of, unequal educational opportunities.

The financial crisis has led to a decade of austerity, which has seen my inner-city London school face a significant reduction in its budget.

Although the referendum was formally about our future membership of the EU, it became a vote on the state of the nation. It should send a message to those in government that Britain must be woken up from the nightmare of austerity.

Despite claims made by those in government, the end is not in sight. A bad Brexit may push us into another decade of cuts, another decade of declining school budgets, another decade of burning injustices. This is not the London that I or my generation want to inherit; it is not the London that we are helping to build.

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More fundamentally, Brexit is preventing politicians from focusing on many other significant issues. Knife crime is claiming the lives of young people. There has been a 22% rise in knife crime in London. I and many of my peers attribute rising knife crime to public funding cuts, a lack of opportunity, and inequality.

These are issues which led people to vote Leave. But for Brexiteer politicians, when things are going well, it is down to the actions of those in Westminster. When not, Brussels is to blame.

In the years leading up to the referendum it became far too convenient to scapegoat Brussels without creating real solutions to public policy issues that threaten the future of young British people.

To Brexiteers I say that it is the government which sits in Westminster that is implementing universal credit - not the EU. It is the government in Westminster that has made the curriculum more difficult and exam-focused while cutting school funding - not the EU. It is the government in Westminster which is implementing austerity and plunging the most disadvantaged deeper into poverty - not the EU.

Democracy is not a single event - it is a continual process of the actions of politicians reflecting the will of the people. The only way to ensure that the will of the people is reflected in the Brexit process is a People’s Vote.

And if the politicians of today become accustomed to ignoring their young constituents, they will face a rude awakening when we become old enough to vote. Here in London, my generation is eagerly awaiting the chance to bring the power of the ballot to bear to support strong ties with progressive Europe and shape a better future.

• Athian Akec, @athianakec_myp, is a supporter of Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC), the national youth campaign for a People’s Vote.

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