Emma Thompson Has a Message for You: 'Get Off Your Arses and Vote!'
“All young people need to vote… What do you think - that’s it’s not going to affect you?”
Emma Thompson does not have time for people who don’t turn up to vote.
“Young people did not vote in the last election,” she told Global Citizen. “If you don’t vote, you get what you end up with, like it or not.”
The multi-Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning actress, 58, was not shy as she talked to us. She talked passionately and persuasively, using emphatic, powerful gesticulations to drive every point home. She had no problem with speaking her mind — remember, this is a woman who once turned down a date with Donald Trump.
Global Citizen met Thompson after a morning spent judging a debate between schools in Leeds and London on the impact of UK aid. She described the competition, hosted by Comic Relief, Debate Mate, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as “one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever seen” and, as an election looms on June 8, exclaimed that “I want them all in bloody cabinet!”
“What I think is so brilliant about listening to these kids is that they understand how relevant they are in the world,” she told us, “and I think that this is the kind of thing that makes them realise that voting is very, very important.”
Last June, the EU referendum saw approximately 64% of registered voters aged 18-24 turn out to vote. Although higher than first thought, this still pales in comparison to the 90% of registered over-65s who voted. However, some reports state that youth turnout may have been as low as 36%. Whichever figure take your fancy, Thompson is onto something: young people are less likely to use their vote.
“All young people need to vote,” Thompson said. “There was a tiny percentage of young people that voted at the last election. What do you think — that’s it’s not going to affect you? If you voted, then maybe we wouldn't be in this mess! It drives me crazy.”
Dr. James Sloam, Co-Director of Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway, reports that just 40% of young people voted in the first three general elections of the 21st century, down from over 60% in the early 1990s. Swedish voters between the age of 18-24 turn out in twice the numbers as the same group in the UK.
In the 2015 Canadian elections, Justin Trudeau swept to power with a 77% voter turnout — the highest in a quarter-century. Young people aged 18-24 increased turnout by 12 percentage points, more than any other demographic. If the British youth were to follow the same path on June 8, then who knows what might happen?
Thompson, who described gender equality as “part of my DNA,” did not mess about. “We were all fighting tooth and nail to get the vote for women 100 years ago,” she continued, “and you think: how many 18-year-old women vote? Do they vote? I mean, I don’t want all those suffragettes to have died for nothing. Get out there — get off your arses and vote!”
As we spoke, international philanthropist Bill Gates stood about a metre to our left. The richest man in the world was talking to Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow about the importance of UK aid to eradicating extreme poverty. Moments earlier, he surprised the 250 schoolchildren at the event as he walked out on stage to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” before he gave an impromptu talk about the world’s greatest challenges. Gates was upbeat. Does Thompson share his optimism?
“(UK aid) is part of our capacity and our identity in the world, and our connection with all the countries that we’ve been very negatively connected with in the past,” she said. “The least we can do, since we’re not apologising much and certainly not paying compensation, is to honour our commitments to (the sustainable development goals). 0.7% is nothing.”
Thompson is referring to the International Development Act, which protects 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income to spend on improving the lives of the world’s poorest. It’s a tiny part of the budget, but a vital component of Britain’s position in the world as a compassionate, outward-looking nation. But, recently, it’s been under fire. It’s a debate that’s sure to play a key role in the coming weeks of election campaigning.
“We all need to be talking to one another about what actually works for most people, and how we make this world a better place,” she concluded, before returning to talk once more to the schoolkids she is certain will be the future of this country. For Thompson, change begins with voting. If you don’t, then Emma Thompson will know. And she won’t like it.