“Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now” – Bob Dylan
It now looks as though the result of the UK’s election could have been down to young people turning out in their droves to vote. Talk of a 72% turnout for 18 to 24-year-olds has been doing the rounds, though this is currently unsubstantiated. The 10 constituencies with the highest proportions of 18 to 24-year-olds posted increases in the Labour vote of more than 14%. The biggest swing to Labour was in Bristol West where it grew 30% – it has the eighth highest proportion of 18 to 24 year olds in the country – it’s the home of Bristol University. A 72% turnout for that age group would be remarkable given that Ipsos Mori estimated that only 43% of that age group voted in 2010 and 44% in 2015, but as yet we have no evidence that happened.
Be that as it may, I do think something fairly extraordinary happened on Thursday.
It’s a reflection, I believe, of the values of an emerging generation that are very different from those of recent generations.
This Instagram, Snapchat obsessed “Generation Z” really cares about society. It’s a generation that is doing more volunteering than ever before. It’s a generation that is joining organisations – whether political, recreational or civic – in a way that the Millennials have not. Numbers of adolescents and young adults participating in Scouting and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award are on the up, not just in the UK, but worldwide. Because this is a generation that wants to make a difference.
These young people are not Thatcher’s children — more New Labour’s favourite nephews and nieces. Too young to remember 9/11, they have grown up in a world that has been embroiled in political and financial turmoil, sometimes feeling more like a reality TV show than reality. We even have a reality TV star as the supposed leader of the free world. As a result, they are keen to look after their money, and make the world a better place. A report by Sparks & Honey, a US advertising agency, describes this generation as the “first tribe of true digital natives” or “screenagers”. But unlike the slightly older Millennials, they are smarter, safer, more mature and want to change the world. Their icon is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education campaigner, who survived being shot by the Taliban, and who became the world’s youngest ever Nobel Prize recipient.
They are, to their cynical Gen X parents (and teachers like me), almost nauseatingly worthy, keen to volunteer and aware that an education is to be treasured. Sparks & Honey says 60 per cent of them want to have an impact on the world, compared with 39 per cent of Millennials.
All that ‘love and peace’ that I see from young people on social media isn’t ironic or shallow. It’s heartfelt and real. You only have to look at the mutual outpouring of genuine affection at last weekend’s concert in Manchester to see that. I might personally have cringed at Justin Bieber’s words before his performance, “God is good is the midst of the evil. God is good in the midst of the darkness. He loves you. To the families we love you so much. Put both hands up to honour those people right now. Say we honour you, and we love you. Thank you so much for having me.” But he clearly meant what he was saying – and his audience appreciated those words.
This is a new empathetic generation.
I sense that today’s young people will not allow their parents and grandparents to continue ruining the planet. They won’t allow bullying. They see human rights as non-negotiable. They care about their neighbours – whatever age their neighbours may be. Thanks to Instagram they have friends in many countries. They do not recognise national borders. In my local secondary school, the LGBT+ society is not just mainstream, but celebrated by the student population. They want to be involved. To make decisions. To act and make an impact. Not to better themselves, or to satisfy their egos, but because they want simply to create a better world – for everyone.
Our politicians need to take heed.
“Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.”