General election 2024: What matters to these six first-time voters in Birtley

Amy Sutton hosted a roundtable discussion with six first-time voters ahead of election day on 4 July

First-time voters at a sixth form college in the North East have given their views on what matter to them ahead of the general election.

This sector of the electorate were not old enough to vote four years ago, but have lived through Covid lockdowns, the cost of living crisis and witnessed war return to Europe.

Now they can have their say on the future of the UK's leadership.

During a visit to Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy Sixth Form, in Birtley, pupils sat doen with ITV Tyne Tees to discuss the upcoming election.

Two of the voters are decided while four were either undecided, or will cast a "tactical vote" in their constituency.

Whatever they write on the ballot paper, all promise to show up to the polling station on the day.

Decided or undecided? And what issues matter?

  • Matthew Ward, Decided. Main issues: Climate change and house prices

  • Jamie Melton, Undecided. Main issues: House prices and LGBTQ+ Trans rights

  • Chloe Annan, Decided. Local issues and education

  • Faye Richardson, Undecided. Main issues: NHS and LGBTQ+ Trans rights

  • Euan Rennie, Undecided. Main issues: Cost of living crisis and war overseas

  • Lucy McGuinness-Brown: Undecided. Main issues: Cost of living crisis and climate change

The six students sat down to give their views on youth interest, the main issues affecting their choice and the impact they think the election will make.

What is their interest in politics and the election?

Voters are statistically less likely to turn out at the polls, according to data. Despite this, young voters are a crucial audience that major political parties still target, in the hope of grasping their attention and votes.

Figures from YouGov showed only 47% of 16-24 showed up on the day to have their say in the 2019 General Election. But will it be different this time?

"Statistically, we are not voters, not as much as the 65 and over age group", said Faye. "So it means that policy isn't really aimed towards us, so we are seen as disengaged.

"Look at the introduction of National Service. It seems that it is policy that perhaps the older generation would be fine with, but that are detrimental to our futures and our lives".

Jamie suggested the lack of education surrounding politics in schools could deter young people from taking an interest.

"In Scotland, they can vote at 16, whereas we can't vote until we are 18," he said. "So immediately, we are not engaging with politics potentially as much as Scottish students are".

Lucy thinks that the lack of "younger" representation in Parliament is an issue, explaining: "We don't see anyone like ourselves there".

However, Euan said observing the likes of Dehenna Davison, who was elected as MP for Bishop Auckland in 2019 at the age of 26, was a good bridge towards meeting the needs of younger people.

Even when there looks to be some younger representation, Faye claims the divisive nature of politics which she believes exists between age groups cannot be ignored.

"There is a vitriol between generations," she continued. "Older people hold vitriol between younger people and vice versa.

"I think that generational gulf adds a lot of demeaning the way in which young people see politics and how to get political action, whether that is online, via e-petitions or attending protests."

Chloe said young people just don't feel "fought for" and a lack of acknowledgment during electoral debates has been clear.

Her attempt to show initiative in getting in touch with her local candidates did not go down well, she said.

"I actually did email my prospective Labour MP," she said. "I was proactive and wanted to know more. I got a reply that was kind of like, 'You aren't going to vote for us anyway'.

"They assume we won't look into who will represent us locally, that it's all about the big names that we all know and see on the news."

"I've also seen a lack of canvassing and opportunities to speak to your MP," Euan continued. "I think there would be a lot of value in bringing back that face-to-face contact between constituents and their MPs, because it is vital to the whole system."

What are the issues that matter?

The cost of living crisis, climate change and equal rights for all were among the main issues brought up by the panel.

All six students were concerned about "London-centric policy" that would not benefit their lives in the north.

Lucy said: "I think a big issue in the North East is ambition. A lot of people from the North East don't think they can succeed because of where they come from, so really, it is about giving people that empowerment."

There were also serious concerns about house prices and how this may affect their transition into adult life.

Jamie said: "I am terrified to be going to uni, because I don't know how I am going to pay for those bills."

The group agreed a focus should be made on improving LGBTQ+ and trans rights as well as disability laws. They said that although improvement has been made in recent years, it has not gone far enough.

For Matthew, the pressing issue is getting public trust back into the justice system.

The aspiring law student said: "Unfortunately, there is a back log at court and the ongoing issues we have had with policing. If I were Prime Minister, I would find a way to educate people."

Chloe suggested improvements to the education system that benefit both teachers and students - while Euan concluded the most important issue was the severity of the cost of living crisis and getting the economy back on track, with more investment in the north.

What impact will the winning party have?

The students also discussed the impact they think the general election result could have on their lives.

Matthew believes politicians are often "plagued by short-term thinking".

He said: "For me, [as a voter] I know I'm not thinking about the next four years, I'm thinking about the next 20 years'."

Faye agreed - saying there is little to differentiate the major parties topping the polling lists.

"Young people do look at parties and think, well they do look kind of the same, what they are saying are kind of the same," she said. "So where is my representation? Where is any representation of any other idea?"

So what does an "ideal" Prime Minister look like to this group? Matthew said simply: "You want someone who will reassure you."

Jamie believes we have heard for far too long that we are in "uncertain times" and wants this to be tackled.

"As the leader of the UK, you have got to make it less uncertain," he said.

Matthew agreed, stating it was like "banging your head on a brick wall" waiting for change.

'Do any of you want to be Prime Minister?'

Asked if they would be up for the role at Number 10, it was a resounding no.

"Not at the moment, no," said Matthew. "I think with everything going on, what you think is the right decision would turn into the wrong decision"

Jamie said: "It doesn't matter who is head of the Conservative Party or the Labour Party - they are going to be scrutinised."

Faye reflected on how some voters may expect to see Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer's name on their own ballot paper.

"Even when we're talking about voting, we are talking about voting for Starmer or Sunak," she said. "But we're not voting for Starmer or Sunak. We are voting for someone to represent our local constituency.

"There needs to be more push for local issues and identifying those and representing those in Parliament."

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