These Teens Are Too Young to Vote – But They’re Campaigning Anyway

We spoke to political activists as young as 11 about why they’re getting involved in this election.
December 11, 2019, 2:14pm
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Liberal Democrat campaigner Stephanie Holmes (left) and Green Party campaigner Macsen Brown. Photos courtesy the subjects. 

At the 2017 general election, an increased voter turn-out from 18 to 24-year-olds helped deny the Conservatives a majority. While the figures of the alleged surge in youth voters or 'youthquake' were disputed, the importance of young people in politics can’t be underestimated. When voter habits align closely with age demographic, mobilising the young is crucial to parties succeeding. Or, in the case of the Conservatives, a growing threat to their power.

This year has seen a surge of activism in under-18s, not least at the Fridays for Future strikes, which saw hundreds of thousands of students march in climate protests across the world. Not to get all teary-eyed and optimistic here, but perhaps this marks a turning point in our history? One where young voters are no longer a forgotten demographic with low voter turn out, and start exercising their voice from such a young age that by 18, they’re primed to get out and vote. Or maybe the majority still want to play Minecraft and make AMSR tutorials on YouTube! Who knows!

We spoke to under-18s from Labour, the Greens and Lib Dems who have been out campaigning this election, despite being too young to vote. (We attempted to find young Tory supporters to contribute to this piece, including contacting the Conservative Party press office and Young Conservatives press office, but did not receive a response).

When it comes to these young activists at least, there is hope yet.

Beth, 13, Labour

VICE: Hi Beth. What Interests you about campaigning even though you can't vote?
Beth: Your actions have an impact on what’s happening, and you are actually helping out. Before I just thought they wouldn't do much but now, I have learned a bit about it and now I know that they are actually helping to make a change.

Why support the Labour party in particular?
Well, the people in the Labour party are all very positive and trying to use their time and help the communities, and they are focusing on the future, not just on what's happening now.

What kind of campaigning have you done?
I did a speech in front of the Labour Party, campaigning for climate change and I have gone on quite a few strikes and I did an interview for BBC Kids at about this time last year.

What do you want to see change most?
Well, a big thing right now is climate change. We've seen in the last two years the hottest summers so that's a big thing also because it's our future that's going to be affected by it.

Macsen, 17, Green

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VICE: Hey Macsen. How did you end up getting involved in canvassing for the Green party?
Macsen: I joined the greens in May. I'd been in Labour two years previously. I'd joined Labour when Corbyn was elected leader because I thought he was a pretty cool guy, but then I became more and more concerned about the climate specifically, and became more and more extremely left-wing.

I just saw the Greens get their fantastic results for the local elections and I started looking into their policies and the general party culture. I realised that unlike any other party, I genuinely agreed with everything they had in their policy document. I felt that it was a party that had a much more positive, climate justice-orientated [approach] as a whole, rather than it all just revolving around who the leader might be at any time.

What do your mates think about it?
Most of my friends are wanting to get more involved. They come with me to hand leaflets out often and show interest in environmental things. My friends and I run the school environmental society together. There's definitely lots and lots of young people not just in my school but across London, who are active and want to help.

What do you and your mates care about most?
The climate crisis, but not just that. Just sort of the general state of global inequality, and the fact that the West is so rich, meanwhile there are other countries across the Global South that continue to be exploited, with loads and loads of people living in poor conditions and that the entire economic system that supports my way of life is founded upon exploitation.

And normal stuff, like the NHS. I want to be able to vote, which would be nice.

Rose, 11, Labour

VICE: Hey Rose. You're so young! When did you first get involved with politics?
Rose: My mum made an impression on me when I was four or five, protesting and marching and stuff. I think it was pretty early. [With] Labour, I think it was about a few months ago I started, like, protesting and stuff.

What do you want to see change in your lifetime?
I think what I want to see change is more people joining in and more people being involved in [climate action] and more people understanding that we're not just marching to get off school, we are marching to help the environment and to help people who are in need.

What do people your age care about?
I think the biggest issue for people my age is using way too much plastic than they need. When I go shopping with my friends, they bring a big bag to get the shopping in, and they are buying plastic bags to put the actual shopping in. I think what could change is just bringing a fabric bag or a recycled plastic bag – that could really change. So, shopping bags.

Stephanie, 17, Liberal Democrat

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Stephanie Holmes, a campaigner for the Lib Dems, speaks at VICE's recent youth debate, hosted with the UK Student Climate Network.

VICE: Hey Stephanie. Why campaign for the Lib Dems? Aren't most young people Green voters or Labour?
Stephanie: Where I live, there's no chance of Labour gaining a seat, it's just the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. For me, it was the Lib Dem's position on Brexit that helped me move towards them, and their social issues, and their policy on election reform.

Do people take you seriously even though they know you can't vote?
I think so. On the doorstep, talking to people who aren't in the party, they don't know how young I am. I've never had any issue with my age I don't think. Not in person, but maybe at other events I've done. I did a debate a few weeks ago and a lot of people are saying online, “They shouldn't be saying this, they don't have the vote. They're not qualified. They haven't lived enough of a life.”

Do you think we're going to see the most political generation of all time? Or are people like you just an anomaly?
I think definitely we're a generation where we're more politically engaged. I think it's because people are saying it's the election of a lifetime. It's the nature of Brexit and the divide that's making people more concerned, and they're seeing the division in their family and friends. I think it's also the political landscape at the moment that's getting people more involved. Things will directly affect [young people] and I think those issue are arising more.

@RubyJLL