This General Election was very different not least because of the number of young people (under 25 years) who got involved.
I remember at the launch of our candidate’s local campaign, at which more young people than usually turned up in support, declaring that this 2017 election could become the young people’s election not least because they were heavily criticized (unfairly in fact) as not turning out in the Referendum on Europe. This time a greater turnout by young people could actually change the direction of national policy and nor was their interest only in student tuition fees. It is true that now nearly 50% of young people go forward into higher education but that is not limiting their political vision and aspirations. They have ideas about the kind of societies and wider world we should be shaping to live in. They tend to be more internationalist with a strong sense of human solidarity and at the same time are compassionate to those around them.
This time they certainly made a contribution to campaigning, door knocking and using social media and their turnout in some seats made a crucial difference. Young people were actually campaigning for a different and more hopeful future. They have much to contribute to future social economic and cultural policy of our society and our role in the wider world. The real impact of this election was the higher turnout by the electorate as a whole and the destruction of the tradition of the ‘safe parliamentary seat’. What emerged from this election, as sitting MPs worked to defend their majorities, is that a higher turnout and an active local campaign can change things.
What promises were made during the election on tuition fees are now history, though in the present political context it is not insignificant that student debts are about to be magnified by an increase in debt interest rates by the company managing the student debts by some 6.2% in the autumn. In other words the burden of debt is about to get much worse and that will impact on the ability of a student to get a mortgage or borrow money when they start work after studies.
At recent graduation ceremonies at Leeds Trinity University both students and their families were concerned about the worrying wider world into which the new graduates would now step Nor, it must be remembered, do all young people go into higher and further education. More than half do not go to get a degree and face a changing world of work of zero hour contracts, part time and temporary work often in the expanding service sector.
Interestingly a recent survey by a Christian youth organisation suggests that there are far more practicing young Christians than previously thought, with one young person in five declaring to be active followers of Jesus. Many stated that visiting Churches was an important factor. Interest in both large music events and quiet Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament came top of their religious likes. For too long both politics and the Church have bemoaned the lack of engagement by young people, perhaps the tide is now positively turning.