Five young people from across the country give their views on ‘the most consequential’ EU vote in a generation
Milkshakes have been the runaway star of the 2019 European elections, the results of which are being hailed as “the most consequential in a generation”. Despite police ordering McDonald’s not to sell them near a Nigel Farage rally last week, the leader of the newly-formed Brexit Party was left shaken in Newcastle on Monday after being doused in a sticky, milky drink. “It’s a failure,” he barked to his security team, “how did that happen?”
A UKIP candidate under investigation for making rape jokes about Labour MP Jess Philips was also hit with a milkshake on Monday, his fourth of the campaign. He had three thrown over him in as many days on his tour of south west England, with people in Devon, Cornwall, and Plymouth all upending milky beverages in his general direction.
But it was former EDL leader and alt-right agitator, Tommy Robinson, who took the first milky boy to the face early on in his tour of the country after a heated exchange with a man in Warrington. Danyaal Mahmud threw his McDonald’s milkshake over the MEP candidate after being “shoved and repeatedly abused” by his supporters, but said he’d be willing to bury the hatchet: “I guess we could shake on it,” he told The Observer.
The fact that dairy-based beverages have become the unlikely protest symbol of this election goes some way to explaining the general vibe in the UK right now; while the country navigates the aftermath of one of the most divisive votes in its history, a horde of far-right rabble-rousers roam the land smelling like stale milk and whipping up hatred for the most vulnerable in our society.
No amount of perishable-goods-hurling appears to be having an impact on the popularity of the far-right. They lead in the latest polls in the form of Farage’s Brexit Party – designed to force Brexit through at all costs – who are currently forecast to win the majority of the UK’s seats. Change UK, the new centrist group led by defectors from Labour and Conservative benches, hoped to garner support from Europhiles on all sides of the political spectrum, but they continue to poll in the single figures and their own leader has admitted that the party may not even exist at the next election.
So what about the country’s youth? Are they planning on voting? If so, who for? To build a picture of the mood among young voters, we spoke to five young people from across the UK to see what they think of the upcoming election.
WILIAM, 20, CARDIFF
“I think this is all a bit of a mess, to put it politely. The most important thing is trying to maximise the amount of people voting on Thursday, we can’t complain unless we stand up and make our voices heard. I’m a former Labour member but I left because of their Brexit position so it’s Plaid Cymru for me – the only Remain party standing up for Wales and young people. We have a great candidate, Carmen Smith, who’s been involved in the People’s Vote from the start, and that shows the seriousness with which Plaid Cymru are taking it.
I’m a youth communications officer for the party, and I’m actually quite confident that turnout will be higher this time around; in past elections it’s been low because no one has been engaging in the European issue, but now it’s at the forefront you can’t really ignore it. It’s important for us to ensure as many young people get out (to vote) because they’re more supportive of the EU than other groups – older generations tend to vote against those interests.
We’re being very clear in our message – our main campaign pledge is to secure a People’s Vote with the option to remain. We’re also letting young people and students know that we’re the only Remain party in Wales that can win seats. We’ve been speaking directly to students across Welsh universities and my goal is ensuring that we get all the information out on social media.”
LOU, 24, NEWCASTLE
“I’m getting a bit frustrated with the situation. Me and my boyfriend talk about politics quite a lot, so this is a big thing – we feel the need to get involved in it. But those separated from politics don’t seem to get the gravity of it, they don’t really see the point. They’ll say ‘oh it’s the European elections, there’s one every few years. I don’t really care’, but they’ve been moaning for the last two years about Brexit. This is finally a chance for us to have our say and make ourselves heard, as long as we support the right party. People forget it’s even happening, I’ve got so many friends who say they’re going to vote who haven’t registered. It’s frustrating.”
SCOTT, 20, STRABANE, NORTHERN IRELAND
“The way I see it, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland have just come out of a really exciting result. The recent local council election was important for us – we had the biggest gain out of anybody and we’re hoping that momentum is going to continue into the EU elections. Issues with the Irish border have been at the crux of the Brexit crisis and now people can have their say on the shambles that it’s been over the past few years.
I think one of the major trends that came out of the recent council elections was more youth engagements – we’ve got a new group of people voting who weren’t voting before. There’s more voices coming out to challenge the DUP and Sinn Féin, and what we’re seeing now is because of their failure to form a government; the move to anti-sectarian politics is because of a backlash against them. The young people who came to vote in the council elections aren’t going to go away.
The DUP are supporting the Tories and that has actually included supporting them on Brexit votes, despite the fact that Northern Ireland voted 56 per cent Remain. But because we have a first past the post system, 10 out of the 18 MPs that were elected are DUP MPs, which is disproportionate to the actual support they have in Northern Ireland. This doesn’t reflect the Brexit views of Northern Ireland overall. Seven Sinn Féin MPs are abstentionist, they aren’t going to vote either way so they’re effectively abetting the Tory agenda. Only Alliance is capable of standing up to them and I think this election provides them with a good opportunity to do just that.”
TAMANA, 25, KENT
“I don’t think I’ve ever been able to vote in the European elections myself so it hasn’t really impacted me as much. I’m not sure I’m too keen (on voting) because I don’t feel like they’re (the parties) as transparent as they could be. The only time you really hear about the candidates and the people is at election time – I find it a bit disappointing.
To be honest, I don’t really know what these MEPs do, and I used to be involved in European politics. People don’t care about MEPs, they don’t know the difference (from MPs), and they don’t really understand what’s going on. The views I hold seem to be similar to a lot of young people’s views, something I noticed when I worked as a UK ambassador for Europe doing consultations and workshops with people.”
LEWIS, 20, GLASGOW
“I was a couple of months too young to vote in the EU referendum, but I’ve always been pro-EU as it brings a lot more benefits than negatives to the UK, so I’ll definitely be voting in the EU parliamentary elections. A lot of people say Remainers still haven’t accepted defeat, and maybe that’s true, but I feel that a lot of Remainers are also hypocritical – there are a lot of people who claim to be very pro-EU, despite turnout for the EU parliamentary elections always being so low. People only started to care when the shit was about to hit the fan.
I just find that there’s maybe not enough effort in this country to put across the message of the EU – I haven’t had any contact from parties about the process, or what the EU elections mean. A lot of people have no idea what they are, even though so many seem to be so upset about the Brexit vote. There’s still such a big number of pro-EU people, but the turnout has always been so terrible.
The effort from pro-EU parties (to explain) what the elections actually are has been quite appaling – I’ve only seen stuff from Lib Dems and the Independent party really, a lot of the ones on the fence like the Tories and Labour have put no effort into them, and it’s coming up to two days until the elections take place. They’ve left it too late. They’re trying to scamper for votes and because of that, parties like the Brexit Party are going to win loads of votes, simply because they’ve been passionate about it.”