GeneralAre Young Brits Becoming Less Democratic?

Are Young Brits Becoming Less Democratic?


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A recent study by the centre-right think tank Onward found that 65% of 18-35 year olds in the UK supported a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliamentary elections”. Is Britain in the midst of a democratic crisis?

As one of the world’s oldest democracies, Britain is often viewed as a beacon of liberalism. Indeed, the national identity of Britons is so synonymous with the ideal of democracy and democratic values, that throughout its history, the country has not infrequently waged war in the name of ‘liberating’ citizens of foreign nations who do not enjoy the same privileges.

Amidst this burgeoning context, why then, in a recent study conducted by the centre-right think tank Onward, did 65% of 18-35 year olds in the UK think that contrary to democratic systems, they would prefer a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliamentary elections”?

Below, we dissect if young Brits truly feel this way, why this might be, and how this may affect UK democracy going forward.

Do young Brits really want an authoritarian leader?

Despite the headline figure that 65% of 18-35 year olds favour a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliamentary elections”, given the choice between a Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, or Rishi Sunak, and a Vladamir Putin, Xi Jinping, or Kim Jong Un, one could confidently predict the same cohort of young people would favour the former. So what do these figures actually suggest?

Young people are tired. The oldest of this cohort would have turned 18 in 2007. Since then, they will have experienced no real wage growth. This means that wages, when adjusted for inflation, have not increased at all for the entirety of this group’s professional careers. For context, an analysis by the Resolution Foundation found that real wages grew by an average of 33 per cent per decade from 1970 to 2007.

Young Brits are tired of constantly having to fight for basic rights you would expect in any advanced economy. Boonchai Wedmakawand/Getty Images

At the same time, they can’t buy a house because there aren’t enough houses being built. The UK has the lowest rates of available properties relative to its population of all OECD members. They have witnessed, helplessly, the complete and utter failure to build any semblance of a decent train line between Manchester and London which might help bridge the UK’s huge regional inequality and boost the economy. All of this whilst also enduring the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.

You can’t eat democracy

If the UK wishes to dispel any notions of democratic backsliding, it needs to start taking seriously outcomes for its young populace. As Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema so aptly put during the UN General Assembly in New York, two years ago, “you can’t eat democracy”.

Governments must deliver economically. When successive governments fail to do so, disillusionment grows not just with politicians, but with the democratic process itself.

Democracy is a social contract. Young Brits wake up, go to work, and pay their taxes just like any other citizen. In return, they expect certain rights. The right to work in return for a fair wage. The right to own a home. The right to access reliable public transport. The UK’s failure to deliver such outcomes for young people means the social contract is broken. Until it is fixed, young people’s disillusionment with democracy will continue.

How this manifests during the general election will be interesting to see as it unfolds. What’s undeniable is if young people wish to take charge of their own future, they must first turn at the polls – something they have been historically bad at compared with their peers.

Looking ahead to the 2024 UK General Election

Looking ahead to this year’s UK general election, young Brits seem poised to back the Labour party heavily.

According to polling company YouGov’s latest data, around 60% of young Brits say they will back the party. This figure comes despite recent criticism that the party’s cautious approach to its lead in the polls has come at the expense of any meaningful policy proposals. As noted by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, that strategy might indeed increase its chance of winning the election. But it will deprive it of a mandate for much change.

Nonetheless, if young Brits indeed desire a government that acts in its best interests, irrespective of parliamentary procedure, acting without a mandate, on the condition it achieves tangible outcomes for young people, might not be as impermissible as once thought.

Shane Green
Shane Green
Shane Green is a freelance journalist and scholar of international relations based in Seoul, South Korea. He has previously worked in local economic development and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Politics from the University of Manchester. You can visit his personal blog at:

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