Published on February 10th, 2014 |
by Bill Burton
Image © societycentral.ac.uk
The disillusioned youth
Research published last week assessed the relationship between young people and politics. The results were promising, illustrating that the clichéd view of bored and apathetic young voters that permeates the media is completely false. 71 per cent of 16-25 aged young people wanted politics to be taught at school so they can make informed decisions at elections. Instead of apathy and disinterest the study showed that young people are mainly disillusioned with politics – feeling that it fails to represent their views and lifestyle. Given the stereotypical British politician; white, male, wealthy, Oxbridge educated it is not difficult to see why this is the case. 80 per cent of those polled were interested in the main political issues, but felt their political debate on them was adrift from their own views.
With this in mind, what can be done to address these issues? The first and perhaps most important step, as acknowledged by those polled, would be to teach basic politics in school. It seems rather perverse that a developed and civilised society views textiles as a mandatory subject and politics not. School provides an excellent way of introducing young people to politics, away from the agenda driven media and the crass bickering that is the public face of politics. A basic understanding of the structure, history and ideologies of British politics would give an essential basic understanding to pupils and afford them greater opportunity to make informed decisions at the ballot box. The media certainly has a role to play, we are lucky to have the BBC as a source of unbiased coverage but without a basic knowledge of frameworks the information is not as useful.
Teaching politics in an engaging yet insightful manner would certainly present a real challenge. Politics is generally considered a fairly dull topic, but demonstrating its impact on individual lives through a variety of media platforms would surely be the best way. As the study showed young people are interested in politics but are turned away by politicians and the political process. Complimenting better education, politicians also have a part to play in engaging young people. Better demographic representation in parliament is slowly taking place which will help. A reduction in partisan attacks with a view to a more measured approach to political debate and legislating would also be beneficial.
An improved relationship between young people and politics suits both sides. Next years election is shaping up to be incredibly close with the votes of young people being a potential avenue for getting support. The hostility towards the Liberal Democrats for their inability to stop the rise in tuition fees still flows strongly and presents both Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP with an opportunity to reach out to young people. If they are courted, young people will likely be better represented in parliament and their views subsequently will carry greater weight. Policy making is clearly skewed in favour of older voters. Since the economic crash of 2008 pensions have been tied to inflation and yet wages have fallen in real terms by 4 percent in addition to the rising of tuition fees. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the discrepancy between the high turnout of elderly voters and lower turnout of the young causes this.
Socrates was bemoaning the characteristics of young people in Athens in 380 B.C., generations will inevitably clash as they move on from one another, they always have and always will. Education is the cornerstone of any society, no other factor has as large an impact on our development as individuals or as a society and it should bridge the gap. Teaching politics in school should be part of every child’s education, it would suit the country as a whole whilst creating a more unified and understanding society.
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