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Chloe Smith is a former Cabinet Office Minister, and is MP for Norwich North.

This is the third article of four about Generation Y in democracy.

The first article explained that the majority of today’s 18-24 year olds are not voting.  Only 44 per cent turned out in 2010 and, since then, at worst, 88 per cent expressed that they don’t plan to vote.  There is evidence to suggest this situation is more extreme than it has been for previous generations of young citizens, and that Britain’s problem is worse than elsewhere in Europe and the US.

The second article showed how 2015’s first time voters have “a considerable aversion to formal, professional politics” [1] – but that they are interested in political affairs and are doing different activities including some outstanding community projects.  They want confidence in what politics is for.  Meanwhile, politicians need to gain young voters’ trust, communicate effectively and deliver results in policy.

So what are the right things to do, in policy?  Focus on the economy, education and the major intergenerational issues.  And take a radical look from the consumer’s perspective in order to understand and communicate.

2015’s first-timers have already been asked what the single most important issue is to them [2].  Nearly a third of the 1,000-strong sample in 2011 said that theirs to prioritise the various parts of education (including 18 per cent naming higher education tuition fees).  The same number is concerned about employment and finance.  A very broad set of other issues were named at very small percentages of support.

The British Youth Council (which aims to represent people up to 25) maintains tht its priorities are: being ready to work, safe and affordable public transport, defending its members’ futures, votes at 16 and youth services.

The League of Young Voters covers the following interests in its 2014 ‘who to vote for’ tool: travel subsidies, votes at 16/17 and proportional representation, citizenship classes, work experience, internships, the living wage, bankers’ bonuses, tax avoidance, discrimination against LGBT, quotas for female employees in public sector, the mosquito alarm, stricter controls on surveillance in public spaces, renewables, carbon taxes, recycling, live animal exports, GM food, membership of the EU and associated policies, asylum and immigration, benefits, world politics, the legalisation of cannabis and the lowering of the pension age to 60.

Meanwhile, the Intergenerational Foundation and most writers on the topic of injustice between generations (from 20-something bloggers to David Willetts’ seminal The Pinch) cover: education, employment, taxation, the environment, government debt, health, housing, and population.

Like other generations, the young have different views based on needs, political instincts, geography and financial situation. I’m a Conservative, and I don’t believe in labelling people any which way.  But if you look at the research there are some common perspectives.  Nick Denys, a Conservative councillor involved with Bright Blue, rightly sets out three areas:

Trust: Young people want to be free to choose.  No one wants to be told that they must do something or that there is only one path towards a destination.  And as a Conservative, I passionately share my generation’s belief that people should be able to express themselves through the choices they make, whether that be consumer or moral choices.  Generation Y understands that with freedom comes responsibility and people need to take responsibility for the decisions they make.

Help: Young people want to have options.  They want to have access to the information, tools and opportunities that can help them to achieve their goals.

Honesty: There is little trust in government.  Young people are likely to be net contributors to the welfare state, they find it hard to own a home, they have vastly more debt at a young age than previous generations, and they face a tough employment market.  Generation Y is aware that they will suffer from the credit crunch even though they did not benefit during the years of largesse.  Policy proposals will be treated with scepticism, so they must be robust and promises kept.

Now, the Conservatives in Government have a good record of action in policy.

We have spoken honestly about public finances and are bringing the deficit down for future generations.  We have brought about more jobs and will go further with a jobs tax cut in April 2015 for employing under-21s.  We’ve set out our stall on housebuilding.  We’ve reformed welfare, which 70 per cent of Generation Y could approve of [3].  We’ve set the most ambitious possible standards of quality and choice in education and put universities on a freer, more stable financial basis.  We are trusting citizens, as in Francis Maude’s ambitious work at the Cabinet Office to make public services work for the consumer.  We have also delivered a successful, large-scale programme for young people through the National Citizenship Service.

We should be proud of what we have done, and aspire to do more.  The Conservative Party has been, is, can be and should be a party of radical ideas and action.

To be radical, we should take a look from the younger consumer’s perspective and then both walk it and talk it.

Let’s look at welfare.  The latest Ipsos Mori polling, Generation Strain [4], shows that Generation Y does not want the government to concentrate on redistributing wealth.  This does mean that they do not want Government to put money into eradicating inequality, it just that the focus should be on ensuring equality of opportunity.  The question Generation Y will be asking at the General Election isn’t “what will the Government give me?” It’s “what will the Government do to help me succeed?”

Let’s look at the economy.  A simple example of different language is not only to talk to parents about their children’s mortgaged future, but also to talk more directly to those who would otherwise pay off the country’s debts – the children of the Baby Boomers.  The number one thing Government can do for young people is indeed to mend the economy.  Recent research from Demos found that the biggest concern for teenagers is unemployment and access to work.  If the economy improves there will more good jobs.  Generation Y also wants Government to cut red tape and help foster a business friendly environment, because 80 per cent of 16 – 30 year olds believe they will start their own business in the next five years.

Let’s look at housing.  It is obvious that building more homes, and thereby bringing down prices, benefits the young.  Like many MPs who debate development in their constituency, I have certainly had to balance older residents’ desire for tranquillity with younger residents’ need for homes they can afford.  By its nature, the planning process gives a voice to those who currently live in a given area.  Looking from the other perspective, how do those who want to live in the houses-yet-to-be-built express themselves?  Surely YIMBYism has a place opposite NIMBYism [5].  Conservatives are not the mouthpiece of the ‘already haves’;  we are the party for all those who aspire to have, and to do, and to be.  We can help young people organise positively and constructively to express their needs for housing – and we can work with them to deliver results.

Let’s also look at public services for a final example of policy for the new generation: the very way that we vote.  It is an extremely unusual thing for Generation Y not to be able to do something online.  We shop, we bank, we date, we chat, we organise with ease.  However, we register and vote entirely on paper.  Not only is this alien to young people, and indeed to anyone who appreciates the capability of the internet, but it is also ineffective for those who wish to market their product.  As politicians we communicate online with people all the time but we lack the final “one-click” to clinch the deal when the time comes.  Of course there are security and cost considerations, but those pertain to paper voting too.  This is too obvious an area for reform to ignore if politicians are to think and act anything like the new generation which will grow to dominate.

Generation Y’s community campaigning is practical, relevant, goal-oriented and flexible, and government delivery through policy must meet the same expectations.  I’ve begun describing how what I think the Conservative party should do for Generation Y.  Crucially, it should work with Generation Y to thrive in the decades to come.  I will conclude with my final article tomorrow.

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Footnotes:

[1] Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67

[2] Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67.  It’s worth noting a statistical point here.  In typical large scale polls where you might expect a thousand or two of adults in a sample, there are rarely enough people in any given age bracket of that sample to be statistically significant.  Relatively few studies take the time to go in depth into an age bracket’s interests, so this work by Henn and Foard is rare and helpful.  The annual survey of youth brands tells us a bit more about the cohort too – Voxburner, http://www.voxburner.com/publications/247-youth-100-the-uk-s-top-brands-according-to-18-24s, collates data on the brands that young people want to work for or buy from.

[3] Ipsos Mori, Generation Strain: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/DownloadPublication/1613_sri-understanding-society-generations-october-2013.pdf

[4] Slides presented to House of Commons 8th May 2014 and http://www.ipsos-mori.com/DownloadPublication/1613_sri-understanding-society-generations-october-2013.pdf

[5] With thanks to https://www.justgiving.com/yimby for the use of the word!

73 comments for: Chloe Smith MP: The economy. Education. Intergenerational issues. The most important ones for young people.

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