Why the youth vote and Gaza matter in this general election

A recent survey revealed almost a quarter of young people say that supporting Palestinians in Gaza is one of the most important issues to them at the upcoming general election [TNA]

Campaigners are attempting to garner as many votes as possible ahead of Thursday’s UK general elections with Gaza a key issue, particularly for young people.

A recent survey by UKPAN revealed that more than one in ten Brits say that supporting Palestinians in Gaza will be one of the most important considerations when casting their vote with almost a quarter (24 percent) aged under-35.

Parliamentary research from 2021 found that people under 25 were the most politically active group, and the most likely to sign petitions and campaign for what they believe in, while the Intergenerational Foundation noted that a considerable uptick in youth turnout can determine which party runs their constituency in some places in England. In short, the youth vote matters in this election.

While the Conservative Party has been the UK’s governing party since 2010, many have grown frustrated with its policies and actions, including its antics during the pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has consistently defended Israel’s “right to defend itself” despite the war on Gaza costing at least 37,900 Palestinian lives, which for some voters is reason enough to vote out the Tories.

“The genocide in Gaza has been a watershed moment for this generation of young people,” Peter Leary, deputy director of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, tells The New Arab.

“They [young people] have come to understand how our government and corporations in Britain are complicit in this deep injustice and crimes against humanity by providing political, military and financial support to Israel.

“At this election, young people will be looking at the records and commitments of parties and candidates when deciding how to vote, and we know many of them will be voting with justice for Palestine as a high priority.”

The UK effectively lives under a two-party system, where two major political parties – the Conservatives and Labour – dominate the political landscape, at least in England.

But while a natural alternative to the Tories is the Labour Party, its leader Keir Starmer has followed Sunak’s footsteps in asserting Israel’s “right to self-defence” and even appearing to back the cutting of water and power to Gaza after 7 October attacks.

Less than half of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the last elections, compared to three-quarters of people aged 65 and above, and the pro-Israel stance of Starmer has confused many young people who are the natural support base for Labour.

Shaniya Odulawa, a graduate from South London, says she will be spoiling her vote – a protest usually done to highlight dismay at the parties on the voting slip – as she does not believe any candidate represents younger people, and says the war on Gaza will be a major factor in this decision.

“We’re seeing what’s happening to the people in Palestine; we’re seeing people dying, and nothing’s happening,” Odulawa tells The New Arab.

“I think the apathy, the lack of remorse and especially for a country who prides itself so much on being part of stopping the Holocaust, another one is happening, and you don’t say anything, you don’t do anything to condemn anything.

Odulawa sees no point in voting tactically and says that neither the Conservatives nor Labour offers policies that appeal to her.

“I feel like I’ve had enough of voting for the lesser evil in this in this case. I don’t see us going anywhere other than Labour or Conservative government,” she said.

“Obviously, I want a Conservative government gone completely, but I don’t see it being different with Labour; I just see another 14 years of austerity.”

Voting tactically

Many young voters who wish to remove the Conservatives from power are choosing to vote “tactically” – that is, strategically voting to de-seat or elect certain political parties.

In this case, many voters plan to vote for parties that stand the best chance of preventing Conservative MPs from being re-elected, which ultimately means selecting Labour or the Liberal Democrats, England’s ‘third establishment party’.

Melanie Edwardsdottír, a British women’s rights activist, who will vote in the Conservative stronghold of West Worcestershire, says that although she wants change the war on Gaza means she is unlikely to vote for either the Lib Dem or Labour candidates, who are the only parties likely to de-seat the Tory MP but have similar views on the Israel-Palestine issue. 

“Labour are Tories in red ties, and their inability to call for a ceasefire in Gaza early on is inexcusable to me. So many lives have been lost, and so much devastation has been done,” Edwardsdottír tells The New Arab, although the Lib Dems very early on called for a ceasefire.

“For me, no matter how much I want the Tories out, I can’t vote, in good conscience, for Labour.”

Edwardsdottír hopes the Green Party will gain an MP in her area but finds it disheartening that many will vote for Labour to oust the Conservatives.

“Politicians are supposed to work for our vote. It shouldn’t have to come down to voting for the lesser of two evils either. Voting is a personal decision,” she adds.

“We should be able to vote however we want for a party that aligns with our values rather than settle for something we don’t necessarily want just because it’s better than the alternative.”

The Labour Party is widely predicted to win the vote by a landslide but under the two two-party system it is highly unlikely that a powerful ‘third party’ will emerge from the election, however, important figures running as independents stand a good chance of taking seats and making their voices heard in parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Labour Party and independent candidate for Islington North, tells The New Arab: “In Islington North, the choice is between me as an Independent candidate or the Labour candidate. People should vote with their hearts and minds.

“Young people are totally ignored by our political class. They have been lumped with student debt and rising rents. Meanwhile, their futures are deteriorating in front of the eyes because neither party is treating the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves,” he adds.

“Young people get a rotten deal.”

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