On Friday night I was incredibly proud to attend the UK Blog Awards (and shocked to be awarded a highly commended as a runner-up in the green and eco category). It was a wonderfully optimistic evening with a plethora of writing and influencer talent being celebrated and blogging sectors as diverse as education and automobiles being given a profile. The blogosphere is a unique community and its growing influence, in some sectors more so than others (whilst ‘green’, ‘eco’, ‘conservation’ and ‘farming’ blogs are growing slowly, we still lag behind in terms of numbers when compared to larger sectors such as lifestyle, dating and food), bloggers are generating real changes in thought process and action. Something that particularly struck me on Friday evening was the number of young faces in attendance. Whilst there was a good range of demographics it was clear that the leaders in the blogging world are overwhelmingly younger (as well as often white and middle class, but that’s a different story) people with a unique point of view that they want to put across. Their influence is growing, and will continue to grow as the blogosphere matures.
Blogging is now part of the scenery of the internet, but we forget how it is still relatively young as a means of influencing thought and action. It is generally agreed that the first ever blog was launched in 1994 by Justin Hall – links.net, although it has only really been in the last ten years that blogging has become (relatively) mainstream, with blogs on more topics than you could probably name. Bloggers have become celebrities in their own right – notable on Friday night – and some have gone on to sign book deals and columns in national magazines and newspapers. However, the blogosphere has retained its element of being ‘alternative’ and against the convention of ‘normal’ journalism. This has helped to keep it separate. Some national papers can but dream to attract the numbers of young people who are attracted by certain blogs. What is more, when it comes to YouTube, the influence increases even more, with some influencers gaining hundreds of thousands of views every day. Oh what a political party could do with that kind of support.
If a YouTube influencer were to back a particular party, think what benefit that could have for the latter, although it would be a risky strategy on the part of the YouTuber, or the blogger for that matter.
General Election 2017
This links to the question, in the light of this upcoming general election in the UK, who is truly vying for the vote of young people?
Obviously, it’s still very early days in the campaign and manifestos cannot be assessed properly yet, but it appears that the Green Party is framing itself as the party for the young in this election. For anybody who watched their launch in Bristol, with Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge in the background, this would be absolutely clear.
When you think about it, it makes sense for the Greens to do this. In student heavy constituencies such as Bristol West and Manchester Gorton, they came second in the last election to take place (albeit a long way behind Labour in MG). With Labour seemingly in free fall, they can taste victory on the horizon in places such as this, which would give Caroline Lucas, their only existing MP, a few more direct allies on the green benches of the Commons.
However, winning those seats is still easier said than done. This is probably why they have gone a far as saying they will campaign to scrap tuition fees (of course this would only happen if by chance they got enough Green MPs elected to form a coalition government and hold that as one of their trump negotiating cards – at this stage very unlikely). They have also pledged to increase the franchise by giving 16 and 17 years olds the vote, and stand up for the anti-Brexit message that the vast majority of younger people exclaimed in last year’s referendum campaign.
But, what are the other parties saying about young people?
Again, it is difficult to say until the manifestos are out, but…
The Tories appear to be les vocal when it comes to attracting this younger generation, even though recent research has shown that a significant number of ‘Thatcher’s grandchildren’ have shifted to the right.
In the days of Ed Miliband (that seems a very long time ago) Labour went as far as setting out a full document entitled ‘A Better Future for Young People‘ which acknowledged that, in the main, life has become more difficult for this younger generation and prospects for the future do not appear to be as they would like it. Job instability, huge rents, crippling debt and poor mental health driven by immense life expectation are hurting millions of young people. Labour is probably still seen as the party for education, but they suffer from the Jeremy factor. A poll last month suggested that only 1/4 of 18-24 year olds would vote for Labour led by Corbyn. Not a good sign for Labour if they want to attract the youth vote and win in places like Bristol West.
The Lib Dems who were traditionally seen as the place for younger voters could well still see a surge in support, as a result of their anti-Brexit message, popular with many younger voters, but if you look at the young people page on their website, which is paired with education, it remains overwhelmingly vague. They need to be clearer in their message.
I should of course acknowledge that all young people are individuals and there does of course exist a wide diversity of political views within this millennial generation. However, I believe there are certain traits and life experiences that connect this generation, and any party that can attach themselves onto a message of hope for this rather worried part of the electorate, could do well in certain constituencies.
Further, all of this relies on younger people actually going to the ballot box and casting their vote. YouTubers and bloggers may have been successful in getting the attention of younger voters, but the politicians still have a way to go.