UK Politics

Millennials, not Mumsnet: Younger women and the 2015 election

A straw poll being taken at the event Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Should politicians be appearing on programmes like the X Factor to reach new audiences?

Or should they be breaking down complex political subjects and putting them in simpler terms to get more potential voters interested?

These were some of the ideas being bandied around at an event in Portcullis House in Westminster to mark the end of Parliament Week.

The event host, UK Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Louise Court, told the audience of young women that while the 2010 general election was seen as the "Mumsnet" election, this time round, they want it to be "millennial" voters - people currently aged between 18 and 32 - calling the shots.

But while these women feel "really strongly about issues", they can't find politicians who are speaking for them, Ms Court said.

Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Many want to vote but are not registered to do so. Apparently only 44% of 18-24 year-olds voted in the 2010 election.

One rather alarming poll she had seen suggested that could drop to just 12% next year - although some doubts were voiced about that one.

A straw poll of the room showed that wasn't the case here: most hands shot up when asked who was registered. But then, events like this attract those young adults who are already a bit political.

Among those present was 26-year-old singer-songwriter Eliza Doolittle, who has become involved with the Bite the Ballot campaign to get more young people registered to vote.

She is a newcomer to politics and told the audience that while she didn't "know every single politician", she felt she could not relate to those she saw every day, and was considering spoiling her ballot if none of the options appealed.

Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Binita Mehta, a 24-year-old Watford councillor, said young women could make a difference on local issues but added: "Maybe we have got to do a bit of wiki-research to learn what politics is about."

She urged Ms Doolittle not to spoil her ballot. "I'm going to inform myself to the point where I hope I don't have to," the singer replied.

Radio One DJ Gemma Cairney, 29, said that for many of her generation, politics was a "complete other world", which many could not even get up the energy to feel let down by.

Many were in debt - which created a whole new reason not to register to vote. "They are afraid to register because that means the bailiffs know where they live," she said.

But what can politicians do to appeal to "millennial" voters?

Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Perhaps more party political videos on YouTube? Or at least the "real" version of Newsnight interviews - with subtitles breaking down what politicians are really saying.

Perhaps more of a focus on "young" policies - and less obsession with pensions and inheritance tax might help?

Some suggested politicians should "care less" about how they are portrayed in the media.

A word of warning came from Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon: young voters don't want to see "dad dancing" and politicians hanging out with celebrities.

Even getting on Twitter can be risky - with one person suggesting that David Cameron's Twitter account "seems a bit like a robot".

Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
Image caption Bryony Gordon highlighted her own experiences in the male-dominated corridors of power

The subject of whether Russell Brand should be employed as some sort of ambassador for youth proved divisive. He's not to everyone's tastes.

And the "pantomime farce" of Prime Minister's Questions impressed no-one on the panel - instead, cross-bencher Baroness Young of Hornsey suggested more consensus and grown-up conversations away from "ideological bias" might engage people more.

Sexism in the male-dominated corridors of power was highlighted by columnist Ms Gordon.

She said she had once been called a "slut" to her face by an MP who went on to become a minister.

"You have to sweep that culture out," she said - and using quotas to get more women into Parliament was one way to do it.

MP Margot James said that while she was "lukewarm" on all-women shortlists, Labour's use of them had seen "the terms of the debate change". About 22% of MPs are women - "20% of us is not enough", she said.

"I think it's quite damaging for democracy."

Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

There was a lot of feeling in the room that not enough was being done to educate children about politics from an early age. Bryony Gordon suggested that people were "frightened of teaching politics".

One A-level politics student admitted that "sometimes things are so above my head - like the economy". Others agreed. Her course concentrated more on the structure of UK and EU political bodies.

To make everyone feel better, Ms James quoted former PM Alec Douglas-Home: "There are two problems in my life. The political ones are insoluble and the economic ones are incomprehensible."

If only more people would "'fess up" to not having all the answers, politics might be more engaging, the room heard.

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