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British politics has a serious problem with voter apathy, especially amongst the young. We need to act soon to correct this.

Electoral turnout, historically between seventy and eighty percent, was 59.4% in 2001 and in the mid-to-low sixties at the past three elections. The numbers make for depressing reading and betray a society with sharp divides between the politically disengaged and regular voters; the turnout was 56% amongst BME voters, 43% amongst 18-24 year olds and 78% amongst 65+ voters.

Tim Montgomerie recently warned that low electoral turnouts risk turning Britain into a ‘gerontocracy’, with policy geared towards the needs of the most regular voters – older people. Advocates of this view point towards figures that show between 2001-2012 the average weekly income of pensioner households grew by 18%, while 18-21 year olds’ median wage fell by 21.7%. A 2011 study suggested that over their lifetime, an average 65-year-old has would have received a net £223,183 state subsidy, while a newborn child will contribute a net £159,668.

Perceptions of a ‘gerontocracy’, of politicians making policy simply to curry favour with regular voters, have further implications for electoral turnout. A recent survey found four in ten people in Britain would not consider voting for any political party, with that figure rising to 46% amongst under-30s. Surely this is not unconnected to the fact that in 2014 just 10% of voters believed politicians were in it for the benefit of their country, rather than themselves or their party.

How can these damaging perceptions be altered? New policies helping younger voters could play a part, from helping people to better access part time education to further effective reforms to working age benefits. Reforms to Britain’s democracy could also have a real impact. John Bercow has argued for a greater integration of digital media in the legislative process and has established the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy to make parliament more ‘inclusive, and better able to engage the public with democracy’.

Participation could be boosted by a system where online or internet voting played a component role, as it does in Australia and Switzerland.  The electoral systems of both these countries are notable; Australia for its mandatory voting requirements; Switzerland for the role it gives to direct democracy. Mandatory voting is occasionally mooted in the UK, and may have to be more seriously considered if current voting trends continue. Meanwhile, adopting some of the forms of direct democracy found in Switzerland could play an important role in increasing political engagement. Ideas such as a greater role for online petitions, referenda on policy, directly elected leaders in public services, sunset clauses in new laws and powers of recall would all promote a participative democracy and active citizenship. Online crowdfunding, enthusiastically embraced by mainstream political parties, could also challenge the power of political donors and lobbyists.

Younger generarations represent a growing proportion of our electorate. If our democracy is to function effectively in future it needs to secure their whole-hearted participation, and soon.

Alex Hardiman is a Bright Blue member and recently graduated from the University of Bristol. @AlexJHardiman