I'm voting for the first time and Sunak's 'war on woke' is a major turn-off

Ella Speers, 18, says many of her friends are not voting in their Tory-stronghold area because they don't think it will make a difference

As part of its election coverage, Yahoo News is speaking to voters around the country on the issues that will sway their vote. Read more from our election 'Your Voice' series here as we get closer to polling day on 4 July.

Ella Speers will cast her first vote in a general election on 4 July. (image supplied)
Ella Speers will cast her first vote in a general election on 4 July. (image supplied)

If there’s one issue that won’t be in the front of 18-year-old Ella Speers’ mind when she casts her first vote in a general election on 4 July, it’s Brexit. “It was half my lifetime ago and it was a very distant thing in the past,” says the A’ Level student, fresh out of one of her final exams and with her last long summer before adult independence on the horizon.

“We’re not part of the EU anymore and we’ve known we’re not going to be part of the EU for almost a decade now. I don’t think there’s any benefit in looking back. I think it’s up to the leaders of this country to find their own solution to this now.”

Speers says she feels frustrated when she sees some politicians blaming the economic issues the country faces now on Brexit when there’s no quick way to reverse that decision. She wants to hear more about the issues that she feels directly affect her life now - and that includes both the cost of living and climate change. “I’d quite like the world to still be intact by the time I’m 30,” she says gravely.

Speers, who will be voting in David Cameron’s former constituency of Witney and West Oxfordshire, says she is still to make a final decision on how she will vote. She’s in a Conservative stronghold where the only possible rival to the Tory candidate is the Liberal Democrat challenger, but she is also tempted by the Green Party.

“The Green Party have the best environmental policies, but the Lib Dems are also good on that and have policies that they have actually acted on in the past. And the Lib Dem candidate in my constituency has a background in environmental economics,” she says.

But like many young people, Speers still feels that the Liberal Democrats cannot be trusted with their promises to the youth vote after compromising on scrapping tuition fees and other core promises when the party entered coalition with the Tories. “The last time the Lib Dems did well in an election was in 2010 and it didn’t go well in the long term,” she says. “I don’t know how they would fare in a position of power. That’s my biggest issue with politics: they all make promises they can never live up to.”

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Knowing she’s a new and floating voter, Speers - who signed up to ensure she received both the Green and Liberal Democrat manifestos when they were published - has been targeted by both parties with lots of marketing information, including requests for donations. She hasn’t felt plugged into the election campaign, but admits she avoids broadcast news and newspapers, obtaining most of her news updates through Instagram, and describes herself as “quite a sceptic” about what she reads and hears.

In September, Speers will move to Surrey to study for a degree in acting. The cost of living, including energy bills, which she will soon pay independently, weighs on her mind as she prepares to move out of her family home for the first time. “I’ve managed to find a really good deal for rent but it’s still a lot [of money] and I’m looking at doing a course with 35 hours a week of contact time and still looking for paid work around that, even though I will have line learning and essays I have to write on top,” she explains. “When you look at the profits that the oil and fuel companies are making, there has to be a lot of deception in the communication [about the cost of living]. If it’s getting better I’ve yet to see that.”

Other important policy issues for her include immigration - she describes the Rwanda policy, designed by the Conservative government to deport illegal migrants to the country, as “upsetting” - and what she perceives as a rolling back of rights for LGBT+ people under the Tories’ so-called ‘war on woke’. Speers says: “It’s overturning significant amounts of progress that has been made already. I don’t see why as a country we should be taking back those rights.”

Speers, who describes herself as a pacifist, is also concerned about the lack of discussion in this campaign about our engagement with the Israel-Palestine conflict and the treatment of refugees in the Gaza Strip. “Lots of the news says things like ‘individuals were targeted’ and so much of it diminishes the effect of what’s happening in Gaza. They don’t go into anywhere near enough detail. The world leaders in the West either refrain from speaking or are still endorsing what is essentially a genocide. Our leaders need to be willing to stand up and report what is right.”

Even though Speers is taking her first vote seriously, she warns that many of her college friends are not planning to vote because they believe it will not make any difference in such a long-standing Tory stronghold. “A lot of us know how our parents are going to vote. I’ve got quite a few friends whose parents are very right-wing while their children are left-wing. They just think they’ll be outnumbered so what’s the point,” she says. “But for me it’s a big step towards adulthood and independence. If I’ve made the effort to make my voice heard then I have the right to complain.”

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