In this election young people must 'take back control'

PUBLISHED: 09:57 04 December 2019 | UPDATED: 09:57 04 December 2019

Prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

In this election young people can swing the result - and this time it is more important than ever.

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The stereotype of young people being politically indifferent and ambivalent undeniably holds some truth. But this general election, there is no time for complacency: young people must do what they can to protect their futures.

There is little doubt that conversations relating to politics can become passionate, intense and divisive. I refer you to the events of the last three and half years since the UK voted to leave the EU as proof for that very contention. And it maybe one of the reasons why political discussions, amongst many young people, may not be the go to topic in some social circles in an understandable attempt to avoid conflict or awkward disagreement.

But the axiomatic truth is that politics affects us all, and in reality, young people often talk about policies which affect their individual lives; what they may refrain from is discussing the ins and outs of political events, and the personalities of our elected representatives which may not attract their attention.

As a young person who takes keen interest in politics, I often come across in-depth and nuanced conversations with my peers relating to tuition fee debt, inability to get on the housing ladder, and environmental issues. When I ask same people whether they know who Keir Starmer, or say, Priti Patel is for example, I am mostly greeted with an unequivocal "no". And whilst I accept my generation could do better with getting up to speed with who the key figures are in the main political parties - ultimately, in my view, this has no bearing on the passion, energy, and hunger for reform in society that most youths boast. Politicians come and go after all, but policies have implications for life.

The problem however can lie in stimulating young people not only to turn out and vote, but also to use their skills, knowledge and dynamism to make a persuasive case for the policies that they believe in. By way of example, and as is well versed, an overwhelming number of youngsters believe remaining in the EU is in the best interests of the country and that a final say referendum should therefore be legislated for. Though many feel strongly - it would be safe to conclude that the majority haven't done anything to try to bring this about.

But am I suggesting that everyone who holds firm views on politics should transform into shouty activist door-knocking campaigners and activists? Absolutely not, but in an election where the stakes couldn't be higher with a hard Brexit being pursued by Tories - young people could make a real difference by trying to persuade their family and friends to vote for pro-remain candidates in the best position to see off challenges from the Conservatives and even the Brexit Party.

Whilst I accept that some people are simply unmovable when it comes to voting intention, my experience is that the most persuasive advocates - especially to older generations who may think a Tory Brexit is the right way forward - are their younger friends or relatives who can plead with them to consider their future, and the values that they hold dear to them: like inclusivity, tolerance and equality. The EU embodies these principles after all and provides hope for the future, whereas a sweetheart deal with Trump post-Brexit sets the UK on course to a deregulatory race to the bottom.

What we mustn't do, as a generation, however, is lazily adopt the view that people who are currently inclined to vote for Johnson are racist, selfish and ignorant. Though some might be, there is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority are not. If a relative for instance holds contrary views, challenge them politely and point out the error in their ways without becoming confrontational or condescending. Whatever our age, we can all learn from each other, and human stories matter: tell them why Brexit may harm your aspirations or prove as distraction to the things that really concern you, like climate change. The results may be surprising.

So, you don't have to become a political geek or a full-time canvasser to make a difference. Whether openly, or privately, have a chat with those close to you - even if just over the phone. Read up on manifestos of parties that support a referendum and remind individuals that 17.4 million people can't possibly have been aligned in their thinking when they voted leave in the 2016 referendum, so a further plebiscite appears to be the most logical and fair way out of the impasse.

In the end, there is a lot for young people to lose out on if Johnson remains prime minister after the election, yet there is a lot to gain if we make sure it doesn't happen. After over nine years in government, it's incredibly difficult to produce a list of things the Tories have done to benefit younger generations; conversely, it is not so hard to name policies they have enacted which have, and will, hurt our futures. Brexit, and the risk of further austerity, pose direct threats to this generation of young people, and ones to come.

Hence, I implore all fellow young people not to believe they can't be influential this general election; not to believe that a continuation of the status quo is inevitable; and not to believe that politics can't be a force for good. There is not long left but it's our time to take back control - so let's get it done!

- Chevan Ilangaratne is a young anti-Brexit campaigner.

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