Political lessons from 2017

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Just before Christmas, voters in the Spanish region of Catalonia gave us one last ride on the political rollercoaster that was 2017, writes Harewood Coun Ryan Stephenson.

The snap poll, held after the Spanish government dissolved the Catalan parliament, was called in an attempt to secure a majority for anti-independence parties in the regional parliament.

And like most political risks in Europe last year, it backfired.

I was in Barcelona just days before the election and it was evident from the campaigns on the ground that pro-independence parties were winning the fight for public support, particularly – and surprisingly, among young voters.

The poll delivered a majority for pro-independence parties in the Catalan parliament, with personal support for the deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont giving an increased number of parliamentary seats to his party.

One striking element of the campaign was the level of complacency among anti-independence parties, a view that all they had to do was to increase voter turnout and they would be carried to victory.

In many ways, political complacency, particularly about the apathy of young voters, will be a key lesson from 2017.

Elsewhere in Europe, last year brought disappointment for Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union Party of Germany when its vote share collapsed and here in the UK, despite increasing the Conservative Party’s vote share to a record high, an increased turnout of first time voters delivered no overall majority in the House of Commons.

The priorities of young people will therefore undoubtedly become the focus of policy in the UK and across Europe in 2018, but this doesn’t mean we need to reinvent the wheel.

On New Year’s Day something rather unique occurred. For just one day everyone under the age of 18 was born in the 21st century while everybody else had been born in the 20th century.

Despite this generational gap, for those born 18 years ago or 80 years ago, 2018 provides an opportunity to develop measured policy that benefits everyone, not just any one specific group.

The focus should, therefore, be on growing our economy here at home by promoting trade with our partners in Europe and elsewhere across the world because a strong economy is needed as the foundation for good social policy that benefits all.

Equally, we must not shy away from explaining why it is so important to have stable economic management: anyone 18 years of age today was just ten when the economic crash of 2008 occurred and for them the impact of an economic downturn is just simply not something they can recall as directly effecting their opportunities for employment.

This also means young people 18 years or younger won’t fully understand why false promises, such as free university tuition and renationalised industries, can’t be delivered in the long-term without triggering a debt-fuelled crash that will most certainly reduce their chances of employment.

In 2018 policies should be measured by their outcomes and not simply pledged to win support from young voters.

Every young person living in the UK should hold the dream that one day their living standards will be better than their parents are today.

It is the responsibility of policy makers to remove barriers that prevent young people from reaching their goals, but we must do so in a way that doesn’t encourage future generations to become complacent, because when it backfires it will be them, not us, who pay for the false promises of today.