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Marcus KeeleyMarcus Keeley

First time voters, second time round

In 2010, we toured the land looking for those about to vote. Four days before this seismic election, we speak to generation coalition about their choice now

In the run-up to the 2010 general election, Dazed sent me across the UK searching for 18 to 24-year-old first time voters. I was 26 and had never voted, and I wasn’t the only member of my generation that had never ticked a ballot sheet – in the 2005 election, only 38 percent of young people participated. My mission was straightforward: I wanted to ask young people how they felt about politics and whether or not they were going to vote. It provided a snapshot of Britian’s youth on the verge of what transpired to be the biggest explosion of political activism among young people in decades.

Despite this, things haven’t changed very much, and a recent Guardian ICM poll suggests that only 33 percent of 18 to 24 year olds are absolutely certain that they will vote in this year’s general election. This is hardly surprising given the effects of the tripling of tuition fees, the bedroom tax, the dropping of the EMA and high youth unemployment.

Conversely, the same poll showed that 58 percent of 25 to 34 year olds – the cohorts I interviewed in 2010, with one exception – were determined to exercise their democratic right. With this in mind, I decided to try and catch up with some of those first time voters that I spoke to and see how they’ve changed five years on.

Marcus Keeley, 26, Belfast

At the last election, stand-up comedian Marcus was apathetic about politics and felt that Northern Ireland was isolated from the rest of the UK.

Marcus, are you still feeling turned-off by politics?

Marcus Keeley: Yes, although, I voted in the last election and I intend to do so this time too. But I still feel an inherent distrust for the main parties. In Northern Ireland there are many bigoted politicians who only campaign for their own factions, be they loyalist or nationalist. For me, politics should be about everyone in their community. 

How has politics changed in Northern Ireland during the last five years?

Marcus Keeley: The media has constantly portrayed the peace process as on the verge of collapse, but the truth is that these crisis headlines are just part of the pantomime of our political situation. So we’ve seen the arrest of Gerry Adams, the “gay cake” incident, which is as silly as it sounds, and of course, the flag protests. It’s all so tiring and filled with hatred and ridiculousness.

And how has your life changed?

Marcus Keeley: I haven’t been personally affected by any cuts, but I know artists that have had their funding withdrawn. In Belfast the homelessness situation has become critical, too. I hope the next government improves the quality of people’s lives, but I’m not holding my breath.

“I voted in the last election and I intend to do so this time too. But I still feel an inherent distrust for the main parties” – Marcus Keeley

Luke James, 26, London

At the last ballot, Luke was also standing in his student elections at Swansea University. An outspoken supporter of Welsh independence he thought the main Westminster parties were, “London task masters.”

Luke, do you still feel the same about politics?

Luke James: I’ve mellowed. These days I’m a reporter for the Morning Star, so I have to be impartial, but your views don’t change over night. 

And are you going to vote?

Luke James: Yes, as Dennis Skinner once said to me, “It’s your one opportunity to vote for a bit of socialism.”

Which news stories have defined life under the coalition?

Luke James: Definitely the ones about the bedroom tax. I’ve met people who have sacrificed food and clothes to keep a roof over their heads. It was an ideological policy that’s been ineffective in solving the housing crisis, and I think that sums up the coalition’s record quite well.

In Greece, Syriza has rallied young people. Do you think there’s potential for a similar left-coalition movement in the UK?

Luke James: It’s hard to say. You can see it beginning to happen with the alternative to austerity backed by the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. But whether that would work in coalition with Labour, I don’t know.

Elly Robson, 26, London

Before David Cameron and Nick Clegg assumed power, Elly was a member of the green activist group Climate Camp.

Hi Elly. Are you still in Climate Camp?      

Elly Robson: I’m less active than I was. Environmental issues are still important but my focus is now on fighting the government’s divisive austerity agenda.

The Green party is campaigning on an anti-austerity ticket, too. How is social emancipation linked to climate change?

Elly Robson: Attempts to address climate change without a concept of social justice lead to “solutions” that only benefit corporations. We can see this in the market in carbon credits, where big companies can pay to pollute more. What’s profitable doesn’t correspond to what’s good for our planet, and it’s the poorest that are going to be hardest hit.

The Tories promised the greenest government ever. Did they deliver?

Elly Robson: Their record is dire: they’ve introduced fracking. Meanwhile, spending on renewable energy has been capped and fuel bills have soared.

How can activists work together in the next five years to make the world a better place?

Elly Robson: We need more solidarity and network building. A wide range of inspiring grassroots groups have emerged, fighting against cuts to essential services, anti-immigration policies, rising racism and xenophobia, the marketisation of higher education and social cleansing in London and elsewhere. These issues are all interconnected, so that’s positive. But whoever wins this election, it’s going to be up to all of us to take action to cut austerity politics out of the picture.

“Whoever wins this election, it’s going to be up to all of us to take action to cut austerity politics out of the picture” – Elly Robson

Christiana Spens, 27, St Andrews

Eight months before students stormed Tory HQ, Christiana, then a Cambridge philosophy student, said she thought that protest was ineffective.

Hey Christiana, did you find your faith in protest again?

Christiana Spens: I did. I took some papers in political theory and things changed. I attended a few of the student demos that year in London, too. The rise in tuition fees wasn’t going to affect me, but my little sister has ended up paying them.

How has life changed under the coalition government?

Christiana Spens: For the worst. I’m particularly concerned about changes to the NHS. Last year I had a baby and my father died a few months before. Thanks to the NHS, he’d received treatment for 20-years that kept him alive. The idea that we could lose this service is upsetting.

You live in Scotland and the SNP could play a role in forming the next government. How do you feel about that possibility?

Christiana Spens: My father was an SNP candidate in the Seventies, and I’ve inherited his idealism. Although the SNP lost the referendum, I think it showed demand for a government that better represents its citizens. And if the SNP does form a coalition with Labour, perhaps some of these issues will be debated again.

And did you vote in 2010?

Christiana Spens: I did. And will do so again, though, my constituency is a Lib Dem safe seat, so it seems a bit futile.

Dominic Grego, London, 26 

When Dazed last met Dom he was taking a break from his law degree and deciding what he wanted to do with his life. A Labour supporter, he was unhappy with the party but considered them “the lesser of two evils.”

Dom, how’s life gone since 2010? 

Dominic Grego: Well, I finished my degree, taught English in Spain, had a job in law for a bit, and now I’m working in university student support.

It doesn’t sound like you’ve had a hard time.

Dominic Grego: I can’t complain. I wanted a career in law, but I couldn’t afford a postgrad or to intern for free. My girlfriend’s not been so lucky. She’s a freelancer and work has been difficult and when she needed welfare she felt like the system was obstructing her access to it.

“We’re a long-term couple, and given the cost of living it seems impossible that we could raise a family here, but there’s nowhere else I’d want to be”  – Dominic Grego

When we last spoke, you were back with you parents in Birmingham. Some young people have been leaving London for other cities like Brum. What attracted you to the capital?

Dominic Grego: I came for a job in law, but the company went bust. I then stayed because my girlfriend needs to be here for work. We’re a long-term couple, and given the cost of living it seems impossible that we could raise a family here, but there’s nowhere else I’d want to be.

And will you vote Labour again?

Dominic Grego: Yeah, I still feel like they’re the lesser of two evils. The coalition’s record on equality has been bad. There are still far less women in senior roles than men, and the 2011 riots were an example of how they’ve disenfranchised certain communities.