David Blunkett recently condemned comedian Russell Brand for undermining democracy by encouraging young people not to vote. Appearing on BBC Newsnight, Brand sparked controversy when he advised viewers not to vote.
He told Jeremy Paxman: "Don't bother voting. Stop voting stop pretending, wake up, be in reality now. Why vote? We know it's not going to make any difference."
In his retaliation, Blunkett highlighted a serious issue with Brand's remarks. The already tenuous voter turnout in the UK is at risk and in particular, it is at risk of losing the voice of the younger generation. The generation which will be most affected by government decisions being made today.
By denouncing voting as futile, Blunkett argued, Brand is encouraging those with an opinion to "give up whatever small influence they might have". As Blunkett stressed, the only ones left are "those who already have a voice, influence and, therefore, a say".
Britain is doomed to become more and more undemocratic, if young people are dissuaded from voting. In a twist of irony, the UK is fast becoming the oldest democracy in the world – a description that is becoming ever more literal.
In the 2013 local elections, an estimated 32% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted, in comparison to those aged 65 and over. In the 2010 general election, only 44% of 18 – 24-year-olds voted, in the lowest turnout of all age groups. Overall, only 65% of the British population voted.
Matthew Otubu, Member of Youth Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne, said the UK is at risk of becoming an undemocratic nation if young people continue to be disenfranchised.
Speaking to the IBTimes, he said: The dynamics of the political process need to change to prevent our democracy from a future of participatory famine. Maintaining the current voting age will lead to a political arena devoid of many invaluable resources – a modern replica of 1884 Britain where only men aged over 21 could vote.
While Brand's assertion that we deserve more from our democratic system has its value, nothing will change if we simply stop voting. And considering the decisions being made today will affect the younger age groups, we cannot afford to sit back and let policies be made without any attempt at input.
Some complain that David Cameron didn't even get voted into parliament properly, and that he became prime minister by default when he joined forces with Nick Clegg. But perhaps if more than 65% of the population had voted the outcome might have been different. Once a protest vote, abstaining is now entirely redundant.
Otubu asserts that in order to encourage voter participation, however, leaders need to "stop talking and start engaging".
He added: "It is paramount that we do not let another young generation of voters become even more disenfranchised with the political process; our democracy cannot afford that."
Bite The Ballot is just one way in which young people are being encouraged to vote. BTB is a non-profit organisation that is party neutral, which aims to change the face of British politics by encouraging young people to be counted and "make informed decisions at the ballot box". The campaign established National Voter Registration Day (#NVRD), which takes place on February 5th. To register to vote, you have to be 16 or over.
Mike Sani, co-founder of the organisation, told the IBTimes Russell Brand was wrong to denounce democracy. "For most within recent young generations, it has not been tried," he said.
"Russell Brand says that we've tried voting and we know it doesn't change anything. But we haven't tried voting. Only half of all young people are registered and only 44% turn out to vote. Not enough young people know that they can spoil their ballot either."
Mr Sani added that improving voter turnout in young people needs to start in the classroom as education is key. As part of this campaign, Bite The Ballot goes into schools, universities and youth groups to spread awareness of the importance of voting. He said that the "revolution" Brand commented on, will start in the classroom.
"Young people are often called apathetic, but how can you call them apathetic when they are not being told about how to vote and why it matters?
"Most young people do not have a clue about politics because they are not told or educated. Only half are registered to vote and only half of them turn out to vote. That's 1 in 4. That's a vote not worth winning, and it excludes them from mainstream political policy making. Because of this, democracy is fundamentally flawed."
According to Sani, policies are written for those on the electoral register and those who vote. The disproportionate amount of young and old voters result in decisions being made which fail to benefit the younger generation.
He added: "There's a reason the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes, free eye tests and free prescriptions aren't taken away – politicians fear being punished at the ballot box."