Britain is in trouble. The chancellor’s autumn statement unveiled “difficult decisions” that will impact the health of Britain’s economy and put generational inequality front and centre. While real wages are squeezed for workers, the pension triple lock will rise in line with inflation. Jeremy Hunt has promised pensioners that “this government is on your side”. Increasingly, people young and old feel that while they are weathering the same storm, they are not in the same boat.
Worrying statistics (more on these below) suggest that young people are losing faith in democracy and that – in the face of crises including Brexit, Covid and the war in Ukraine – they are increasingly open to more authoritarian leadership styles.
But despite these trends, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) believes that democracy can both survive and thrive if young people feel like they have a home and a voice in progressive politics. We all have a part to play. That’s why – through our Future of Britain initiative – TBI is committed to forging a new progressive agenda that is forward-looking and that draws together experienced perspectives with the fresh thinking of the next generation.
Right now, around the world, young people are engaging with politics, challenging the status quo and demanding their voices be heard and that politicians urgently act. To harness this energy and win hearts and minds of all generations, it’s clear that Britain needs a progressive plan for its future. And we cannot begin to speak about the future of Britain without speaking to the future of Britain.
In the face of global crises, young people in Britain are increasingly open to more authoritarian leadership styles.
A 2022 report by the think-tank Onward paints a bleak picture for the future of democracy. In the past decade, the number of millennials in the UK who view “army rule” as a good way to govern has tripled. There is also increasing support among younger people for “strong leaders” who “don’t need to bother with parliament and elections”. It’s a worrying shift, and it begs the question: will the next generation embrace or give up on democracy?
According to the report, the drivers of this change in attitude are a narrowing sense of community, increasing social isolation and disillusionment from an “always online” culture. But the idea of eroded community being fundamentally harmful to democracy misses something important. While it is true that young people do not engage with their immediate community in the same ways that their parents did, they also identify strongly as being a “part of the world”. The younger you are, the more likely you are to identify as a global citizen.
Being online creates a wider community, one that transcends international borders and allows young people to engage with the most pressing political issues on a national and even global scale. We must broaden our definition of what “community” is. While the findings in Onward’s report are concerning, this global sense of community may in fact enhance young people’s engagement with democracy. Young people can and will be the ones contributing to Britain’s progressive future. This online engagement needs to be converted into active political engagement.
Youth engagement across the globe demonstrates how important it is to view young people as a political force.
The US midterms saw young people significantly swinging the vote. Faced with a potential “red wave”, the Democrats celebrated their better-than-expected result, thanking young people for voting in historic numbers. The election also made history, with the election of the first Gen Z member of Congress. Maxwell Frost – a 25-year-old Democrat and March for Our Lives activist – won his seat on a platform of gun control, Medicare for All and climate action.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has stated, “We have seen young people on the front lines of climate action, showing us what bold leadership looks like”. The UN is leading on youth engagement on the international stage. Launched in 2020, their Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change consists of seven young people from across the globe who are tasked with directly feeding into the secretary-general on how to accelerate global climate action.
We can’t talk about the future of Britain without talking to the future of Britain.
Britain is facing seismic change, and navigating this shifting landscape will undoubtedly generate challenges. Such challenges mean that Britain’s young people cannot afford to simply watch as events unfold. As we enter a new era for the economy, climate and technology, there is a real opportunity for young people to write their own future. Which is why we’re bringing young people together to get their voices heard.
On 10 December 2022, in partnership with youth organisation My Life My Say, we are hosting our first ever youth conference, Future of Britain: Next Generation. The event will bring young people together with political leaders, influencers and a range of public figures, elevating their voices to help create a progressive plan for Britain. Our exciting agenda includes sessions on the issues of top concern to young people today, such as climate change, technology, democracy and the cost-of-living crisis.
If you, or someone in your network would like to attend our Future of Britain: Next Generation event, you can register here.