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Headlinesn > Tech > General election 2024: ‘Auramancer Sunak’ and Starmer’s punches: How the young are engaging with election
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General election 2024: ‘Auramancer Sunak’ and Starmer’s punches: How the young are engaging with election

Rishi Sunak dressed as a purple wizard and Sir Keir Starmer’s feeble punches in a gym.

These are the images teenagers are sharing in school on TikTok – all being pushed out by party campaign teams to target the young.

For our Bench Across Britain series, we took our people’s parliamentary bench to Cardinal Newman Catholic School in the Bedfordshire town of Luton, where we discovered young people are following this election closely online.

“I’m getting some from the Conservative Party and some from Labour,” says 17-year-old Hope Campbell, a Year 12 pupil.

She and other students quickly pull up a photoshopped image of the prime minister dressed as a wizard with the caption “you’ve been cursed by the Auramancer (-999999 aura if you don’t send this)”, which refers to an on-trend joke among teenagers about “aura”.

Hope explains: “So basically there’s a whole joke about aura – you get positive points if you do something good, and then if you do something like embarrassing or bad you get negative points.

“So, this is kind of like something put on by the Labour Party to say that if you vote for the Conservative Party, you’ll get like minus nearly a million points.”

Eve Kelly (L) and Hope Campbell, who says the TikToks are ‘kind of making (the election) into a bit of a joke’

Hope and her friend Eve Kelly, 17, say Labour seem to be winning the TikTok war, someone from Gen-Z must be producing their content.

But the Conservatives are pushing back. A TikTok video put out by them shows Sir Keir doing a bad job of punching a punchbag.

“He’s obviously not the best boxer,” Hope says. “And they’re saying, I think the punch bag might have won this one.

“It’s kind of funny in the way that it’s parliament that’s doing this, which should be like something very serious. And they’re kind of making it into a bit of a joke.”

Read more: Reform UK may be winning the first TikTok election

Teenagers can’t vote until they are 18. Labour wants to let them join the electorate at 16, but there are a range of policies in the election that will only impact this generation, from the smoking ban, compulsory maths to Sunak’s national service plan – making it mandatory at the age of 18 to do community or military service.

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Most of the students have mixed feelings about being given the vote, citing their “lack of maturity” or knowledge of the parties.

Or, as student Francis Chin, 17, puts it: “We still have a lot of influence from our parents and families so there would be peer pressure from them to vote a certain way.”

But the teenagers are also keenly aware that many of the policies in this election impact them.

Student Hilary Matiwa, 17, says: “Personally, I think we should have a vote because there are some things that they are talking about that are addressed to our generation, like the national service, like compulsory maths and English, and not only that but university tuition fees.

“As we’re getting older, like, they’re getting higher and higher. And then as we leave university, like, paying for houses is becoming more difficult because of the cost-of-living crisis. So, I feel we should have a vote.”

Siyan Sony and Francis Chin
Francis Chin (R) said there would be ‘peer pressure’ from parents if 16 and 17-year-olds were given the vote

There are mixed feelings about national service. Most feel that while it is good to help in the community, it shouldn’t be compulsory.

But student David Mukendi, 17, is in favour. He says: “I think that the plan is good because I think that what young people do understand is that Rishi Sunak is not necessarily trying to destroy our lives and ambitions by getting us to work in national service.

“We need to understand the message that comes behind working in the national service. You know, the art of being able to be disciplined and sacrifice. I think that’s something that the young generation lacks.”

Hillary Matiwa and David Mukendi
Hillary Matiwa and David Mukendi think the Conservatives don’t ‘really care about the younger generation now’

The young students at Luton have opinions too on compulsory maths and the smoking ban – most of them seemed to be against these policies, believing people should have a choice.

They also see the election as rigged against the young, because they don’t have a say.

They talk about the lack of youth centres, the failure to help disadvantaged children out of gangs and tackle knife crime.

Hilary says: “I feel like, especially with the Conservatives, they are more focused on like the elderly, like their pensions and all that.

“I don’t think they really care about the younger generation now. They care more about the adults and the elderly people now.”

Read more:
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David adds: “We’re tomorrow’s future for the country. So, I feel like, you know, we just need a balance. There’s seems to be a lack of consideration towards young people.

“But we are those who are going to suffer most from all the consequences or the choices that these politicians will make.”

They may not have a vote, but the students at Cardinal Newman Catholic School seemed to be among the most politically informed people to take a seat on our parliamentary bench.

They are following the debate, engaging with it on social media, but it will be for us to choose their future.

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