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LSE speaks with LSST about its crowdsourcing project inspiring millennials to shape Brexit

Dr Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz

Students and young people per se don’t vote – or so they thought pre-Corbyn and the London voter turnout. Clearly, polling data from the 2017 UK General Election suggest an unprecedented youth turnout in comparison with the Brexit vote.


Photo source: Dr Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz’s own
Article date: Tue 27 June 2017

The Generation Brexit crowdsourcing project is inspiring millennials in Britain and the EU to help shape the upcoming Brexit negotiations and has been launched by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Ali Jafar, LSST’s marketing and admissions director, and Kunal Chan Mehta, LSST’s marketing and public relations consultant, catch up with one of the Generation Brexit project leaders, Dr Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz, from the London School of Economics and Political Science to find out more.

1.How can LSST’s student body gain any value from your crowdsourcing project?

The pan-European project seeks views from a whole cross section of millennials, including Leavers, Remainers, left and right-wingers, European federalists and nationalists. We aim to come up with millennial proposals for a mutually beneficial relationship, reflecting the diverse backgrounds in the UK and EU. We welcome all LSST to take part!

2. What is Generation Brexit?

Generation Brexit is an exciting new public engagement project, based at the LSE’s European Institute that aims to make young people’s voices heard in the Brexit negotiations. Generation Brexit will crowdsource a millennial cohort vision for the future relationship between the UK and the EU. It invites those aged 35 and under from across the UK and Europe to debate, decide, and draft policy proposals that will be sent to Parliaments in Westminster and Brussels throughout the negotiations.

It is especially keen to engage the forgotten, the apolitical and the apathetic – those for whom Brexit has become a moment of political awakening. The project translates academic research findings into impactful and policy-relevant arguments. Unlike other Brexit-related engagement initiatives, this project targets millennials in the UK and Europe alike.

The pan-European dimension captures the reality of the Brexit negotiations. It also underscores the necessity of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship for the future, built on shared ideas from that cohort of current voters who will live with them the longest. In the wake of the Brexit vote, which reinforced the generational divide over politics, and because of increased youth turnout in GE17, millennial political engagement is more vital than ever.

3. Do young voters not vote already?

Between 1992-2005, youth turnout in UK general elections fell from 66 per cent to 38 per cent, only slightly recovering in 2010. While young people may sign a petition or engage in some other form of political activism, they are happy to let their parents and grandparents choose the next government. Any political party that targets young voters is wasting its time. In an election, appealing to the grey vote is what really matters. This reality explains why Brexit is being negotiated by a few grey-haired men with an average age of 67! Democracy is, for all intents and purposes, a gerontocracy in which the old exercise power over the young.

4. What is the ‘youthquake’ about?

The UK has just experienced what pundits are calling a ‘youthquake’. Early polling data from the 2017 UK General Election suggested that turnout among 18-24-year-olds surged to between 66 and 72 per cent. Subsequent post-election analysis indicates that the true turnout may have been closer to 58 per cent. But even this revised figure is significantly higher than the 43 per cent turnout in the 2015 UK General Election. Even more remarkably, this increasing youth vote is not confined to the UK. Within the last twelve months, young voters have played a more important role in three major national elections. They had an impact on both the 2017 French presidential elections and the 2016 US presidential election. Millennials have finally woken up to the reality that real political change is only achieved through the ballot box.

5. Are young people an important subject of sociological study?

The idea that birth cohorts (generations) are an important reference point for understanding processes of social and political change has a long and distinguished academic pedigree. It can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers (Nash’s ‘Greek Origins of Generational Thought’). Mannheim’s 1923 essay ‘The Problem of Generations’ introduced this concept into sociology. More recently, the generational approach was popularised by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their 1991 book Generations. All of these various studies share the belief that age cohort is a sociologically significant variable because it highlights ‘the relationship between personal and social change and the intersection of biography and history’ (Pilcher’s “Mannheim’s sociology of generations: an undervalued legacy”). Much like social class, the concept of a generation also allows us to interrogate commonalities and differences amongst a group of people of similar (in this case age defined) status. And such commonalities and differences are becoming increasingly salient.

6. What is the dividing line here exactly?

As YouGov has noted, ‘age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics’. Generational differences have been vividly revealed in recent British, French and US elections precisely because millennials in all three states believe their prospects are worse than those of their parents at a similar age. And they are right. As the Guardian pointed out in 2016: ‘A combination of debt, joblessness, globalisation, demographics and rising house prices is depressing the incomes and prospects of millions of young people across the developed world, resulting in unprecedented inequality between generations.’

7. Do millennials have different voting preferences than those of older cohorts?

In the 2016 EU referendum, the youngest voters (18-24) were 73 per cent in favour of Remain – in stark contrast with over-65s, who voted 60 per cent to Leave. A year later, in the 2017 UK General Election, grandchildren were overwhelmingly pro-Labour while their grandparents were equally keen on the Conservatives. Labour was 47 percentage points ahead amongst first-time voters (18-19-year-olds), while the Conservatives had a lead of 50 percentage points among those aged over 70. The lesson here is clear: young people are an important political constituency. Older generations, including most politicians, ignore them at their peril.

In this respect, we could all learn a thing or two from what Jeremy Corbyn did right – and, perhaps even more importantly, from what Theresa May did wrong.

Young people have a voice. Young people have a vote. Young people must be listened to. Gerontocracy is not democracy.

The project can be accessed at www.generationbrexit.org and all updates will be available on Twitter @genbrexit and @lsebrexitvote with the hashtag #GenBrexit, and on facebook.com/GenBrexit For more details, contact Dr Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz from LSE’s European Institute at r.t.dunin-wasowicz@lse.ac.uk

Note from the Deputy CEO:

I wish to personally thank Dr Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz from LSE’s research-conscious European Institute for his kind time and for acknowledging LSST’s proud partnership with the University of West London and London Metropolitan University.

The work of his team is commended and I trust the Generation Brexit crowdsourcing project will be a great success and assist in the body of research knowledge. I invite LSST’s students to participate and find out more about the project using the weblinks above.

Mohammed Zaidi, Deputy CEO, LSST

Please email the author of this article kunal.mehta@lsst.ac for any questions or comments.


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