“The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does.”
These are the words of comedian Russell Brand who refuses to engage with democratic politics.
He’s right that the only reason to vote is if it represents power or change. He’s wrong to say that this is not the case in the UK today.
Politicians spend their lives obsessing about polling numbers and focus group tests because they are terrified of the electorate.
The best example of this power is pensioners who vote in large numbers and hold parties to ransom, while young people vote in small numbers so they can be mostly ignored.
The power of the “grey vote” sees wealthy pensioners showered with huge amounts of public spending and goodies at the expense of younger generations.
Almost one million under 25 year olds are out of work and education and those in work are watching their income fall every year as prices outstrip wages.
Young people are facing higher pension contributions for lower retirement provision.
The average age of an unassisted first-time buyer is now 38 and higher in London and the South-East.
University tuition fees have rocketed and the Conservatives want to stop housing benefit to all under-25s regardless of need.
For rich pensioners it is a completely different story. In an age of austerity all retirees still receive free bus passes, TV licences and winter fuel payments.
In 2012/13 the Government paid £8.8m in winter fuel payments to pensioners living in Spain. Winter fuel payments to pensioners in hot foreign countries will end next year but it has been a long time coming.
By comparison it tried to stop a young lady’s unemployment benefits for not taking a job at Poundland under its workfare programme because she wanted to continue with her internship.
While benefit increases have been capped at 1 per cent from this year to 2016, the state pension enjoys the generous triple lock.
The triple lock means pensions will rise along with earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest.
It has been branded “unaffordable” but politicians have been scared off opposing it since it was introduced in 2010.
The Pensions Policy Institute estimates pensioners will benefit from state increases 0.25 per cent higher than earnings rises.
Even Government schemes designed to benefit the aspirational young, such as Help to Buy, end up benefiting older people far more.
Anyone who bought a house in the last 20 years has made a killing as house prices rocketed and it is today’s first-time buyers who are paying for it.
Speaking at a Financial Services forum event last week, former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s political secretary John McTernan said: “Young people buying in London today are involved in the largest single transfer of cash from the younger generation to the older one that has ever happened in the history of mankind.
“The circumstances of the date they were born, which people have no control over, is defining whether they are winners or losers. Old people win and they are cashing in by selling their homes.”
The reason young people can be bashed with rocketing house prices, university fee hikes and benefit curbs while rich pensioners spend winter fuel allowance on sangria is voting power.
Admirably, Labour wants to introduce voting for 16 year olds which could boost representation of young people and make their voices heard.
The only way to start a “youthquake” and stop politicians pandering to wealthy pensioners is to vote in large numbers. Ignore Russell Brand.
Samuel Dale is politics reporter at Money Marketing – follow him on Twitter here