Why is it that the millennial generation, generally defined as people born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, are seen as outsiders to the British political system? They are portrayed as such by former generations but it is time for millennials to reclaim the narrative about themselves, particularly as they have become the first generation to be worse off than their parents.
The focus on millennials and their attitudes to life, culture and politics is rampant in British newspapers at the moment for this very reason. However despite the attention paid to this generation, there is little discussion on the issue, particularly by the millennials themselves. The prevailing attitude is simply that millennials know and care nothing for politics, and therefore the future of British politics looks bleak. Where their forefathers fought for social change, peace, nuclear disarmament (the list goes on), their generation seems to have fallen by the wayside of political activism.
Millennials have grown up with an almost constant stream of scandals, from the ‘dodgy dossiers’ of Blair’s Labour government in 2003 to the current Conservative Government’s implications in the Panama Papers
There is a great deal of evidence to support this notion. In the 2015 General Election, only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted. This is compared to 72% of 45-54 year olds (Generation X) and almost 80% of over 65 year olds (Baby Boomers). Why is it then that the youngest voting generation are almost half as likely to vote as the oldest? There is an overwhelming sense of apathy, but it is not unfounded. People are disillusioned with politics. In the 20th Century, politicians were reliable figures, representing ordinary people. This image of the trustworthy representative has been shattered in the 21st Century. Millennials have grown up with an almost constant stream of scandals, from the ‘dodgy dossiers’ of Blair’s Labour government in 2003 to the current Conservative Government’s implications in the Panama Papers leaked in April of this year, it makes the government increasingly hard to trust. The attitude of the time is that politics no longer reflects normal everyday life, so why would normal everyday people take part in it.
Whilst this generational apathy is portrayed as folly in the media, most of the British media is run by Baby Boomers and Generation X who are entirely disconnected from those that they criticise. What most commentators fail to take into account is how millennials interact with the world. They have come into the world at a time of technological revolution and political corruption, with none of the opportunities their parents had. For example – widespread youth unemployment. Full employment (less than 3% of the adult population unemployed) was considered fully achievable in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. But for millennials born under the likes of Thatcher and Major (and even perhaps Blair), it is the stuff of fantasy. It is not therefore entirely the millennials’ fault that they have little interest in corrupt politics that do not serve the needs of the everyman – they have known nothing else.
Instead of condemning new media as futile, the older generations should accept the new age of political protest
It is arguable that in fact the constant berating from former generations through the media only worsens the apathy felt by millennials, as it makes them the ‘other’ in society when in fact they are the future. It is impossible to go a week without an article slamming young people’s attitudes to politics cropping up somewhere. This is counterproductive, as it pushes the next generation of British politics to the periphery rather than the forefront, which is where it should be. This is conducive only to those that benefit from unquestioned political practices – the corrupt politicians, big business, and the banks bailed out using public money, even the older generations.
So perhaps instead of constantly berating millennials for their apathy, the narrative should focus on how they can and do participate in politics. Organising a rally or protest now takes seconds in the age of social media, and there is genuine interest from young people to take part in politics as their parents and grandparents did. Facebook events can be shared to thousands of people simultaneously, whilst hashtags on Twitter instantly raise awareness. Instead of condemning new media as futile, the older generations should accept the new age of political protest, and for their part, millennials should prove their political worth. This generation needs to acknowledge and embrace the precedent for political participation set by their generational forerunners and use this in combination with social media to forge a new age of politics. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party is arguably evidence that millennials have already begun reclaiming their place in politics and making a difference, as a majority of his support is from the younger generation. It is time to encourage rather than discourage millennials in politics, and prove that they can make a tangible change in British politics.