It's Not Too Much, and You're Not Too Young to Vote

I was young once and when I was 18, I was exhilarated at the opportunity to vote in my first general election. Back in 1987, I had studied for enough to know that, in my humble opinion, Margaret Thatcher was a pox on the land, especially those northern bits I'd never has actually been to but which I knew, nevertheless, would benefit from a Labour government. There were only two problems: I lived in Eastbourne where the Tories had a stinking majority, and I would be away on a kibbutz in Israel on Election Day.

Undeterred, I persuaded my dad - lifelong Tory voter other than 1945 when the whole nation voted Labour - to cast a proxy vote for Labour. The Conservatives won both the seat and the election, of course, but I was determined to have my say every four or five years and confident it would at some point have an impact, which it did (1997, 2001, 2005) but also didn't (1992, 2010, 2015 and 2016).

Back in the 1980s, one of the hit songs for my post-punk generation was Too Much Too Young by The Specials, a guitar-driven plea by the skinhead singer to a girl: ‘You’re much too much, much too young/ You’re married with a kid, when you could be having fun…with me.’ (Please listen to the track even if you don't read the rest of the article).

Fast-forward 30 years and The Specials are in their dotage and it seems the thing the youngsters aren't doing enough of is voting.

It should be a no brainer

The opinion polls may be all over the shop, but one key revelation is that one factor that explains the difference in their forecasts is their estimate of the turnout among the 18-24 age group. The vast majority (68%) of that group has been wowed by Jeremy Corbyn. If you vote according to the general voting pattern, today’s election could produce a hung parliament. If you stay at home, thinking it's just too boring and middle aged to vote then you'll wake up tomorrow to a Theresa May-led government with majority of anything between 50 and 100 seats.

One crucial difference between 1987 and 2017 is the emergence of tactical voting. I can wholly understand that people will not vote if they know their ballot will make no difference locally. Back in the pre-internet era, I wanted to vote Labour so voted Labour. It's possible that a vote for the SDP-Liberal Alliance (precursor to the Lib Dems) could have had more impact. Today's voters have a range of internet options such as Swap My Vote that enable Labour voters in Tory seats with a small majority over the Lib Dems to swap their vote with someone one in a Tory/Labour marginal. Both voters know the vote they cast (albeit indirectly) could really make difference.

It should be a no brainer: Labour will end university fees, raise the minimum wage, create more apprenticeships, and build a million affordable houses.

That agenda explains the national vote for Labour. The missing bit is your slip of paper in the ballot box. To adapt the pay off line from Too Much Too Young, the clear message is – try having a vote.

More about the author

About the author

Phil has run Clarity Economics, a London-based consultancy, since 2007 and, before that, was Economics Correspondent at The Independent.

Phil won feature writer of the year Work Foundation Work World media awards in 2009, and was commended by the Royal Statistical Society in 2007.

He is the author of Brilliant Economics and The Great Economists.

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