This is for those of you that don’t care about politics, don’t vote, and don’t ever intend to
I turned to politics because I was scared, and now I engage with it because I hope. I saw the corruption and the destitution of the world we live in, I saw an unfair economic system and an impending environmental crisis, and I was terrified by it. But then I began to gain (in part) an understanding of politics, to hear voices cry out in unison with mine, and to hear the Green Party’s vision. Then I began to hope, I began to see that things can be different, if we only fight to make them so.
So why do so many of the younger generation not vote?
Maybe we’re tired. We’re tired of lies and corruption- but to the contrary we should see that as a reason to vote. A more vocal, pro-active public is able to hold politicians to account far better than an inactive one. If we want the corrupt out of Westminster, then we need to start telling them that. But of course there has to be an alternative to vote for- you won’t get rid of corruption if all there is to vote for is corruption. Young people need to be shown the alternatives, those that fight for social justice with integrity and honesty need to be praised and highlighted, so my generation see more than expenses scandals and broken promises. They need to be shown what seems to be sadly lacking in Westminster- they need to see hope. Maybe the media could show an MP doing something good for once.
Maybe we don’t see what’s in it for us. This in part will be due to a Conservative government that never really expects the student/young person vote, so never really tries to get it. To get young people to engage with politics we need to highlight how I affects them, here and now. Crippling debt due to your tuition fees, poorly paid and demotivated university staff, and the scrapping of EMA- just a few of many ways that politics is changing the lives of young people for the worse. Politics is not something that just happens on Question Time or in Parliament, carried out by rich white men in suits- it’s something that permeates into every facet of our lives and that’s a message that needs to be put across.
Maybe it’s not meaningful anymore. Mr. Miliband recently spoke out against Prime Ministers Questions as something only watched by a small amount of the population, and whilst not knowing the viewing figures for BBC Parliament, I have to agree with the sentiment. Politics by and large has carried on regardless for decades. This is wrong- when we have so much apathy amongst our public and politicians ask why are the “public” not engaged- we see how twisted our politics has become. The question the politician should really be asking is “what am I doing wrong?”
Maybe it’s actually nothing to do with young people at all, and everything to do with how politics functions today, what politics has become. Maybe we need to stop asking why the public and young people particularly are disengaged with politics, but ask why politics has disengaged with them. Maybe young people want something more than a 4/5 year vote, and the occasional shouting match between the don’t-stand-for-anything and the only-stand-for-one-thing party’s.
We need more freedom. Give people the freedom to express themselves through peaceful demonstrations- something this government is making worrying steps towards destroying. Having more demonstrations on a whole range of issues is a great way to raise awareness and gives young people something to do other than ticking a box. We want to be proactive, to really do something and there doesn’t really feel like there’s room in politics for that at the moment. This would include reversing the damaging “Gagging Bill” to allow charities and activist groups more scope to move in the political sphere- students are far more likely to get involved with them than with a political party. And this highlights the broader issue of how we define politics- the political has changed and we need to realise that and start respecting alternative modes of engagement rather than having a government trying to shut them down.
We need more power. The Maria Miller scandal highlighted the fury and contempt that many of the public have towards politicians at the moment. The thing that struck me was that many commentators talked of it “reigniting” the anger aimed at politicians- as if it had ever gone away. People do not trust politicians, young people least of all. Let’s get the power to recall MP’s, let’s change the voting system, and let’s have more than a binary choice between Tory and Tory lite. When people can actually influence it, they might start to take more of an interest in it.
We need more knowledge. So often people say to me, “I don’t get politics”. Frankly nor do I, I’m just doing the best as I can as I go along. We have to start teaching people about politics, and economics, more in school. This doesn’t have to be set classes, perhaps just incorporate more into the existing syllabus- I’m sure Mr. Gove will comply, he loves tampering with the National Curriculum. This also goes deeper into how politics is done- could it be simplified anywhere? Is it a bit too bureaucratic and unnecessarily confusing? I do think we need to remember sometimes that there is more to politics than economics as well- they’re two separate disciplines for a reason.
But above all, we need a reason to engage. People have forgotten what politics truly is, and instead see the hollowed out shell it has become.
It has become a game of moral compromises and unrealistic promises, an eccentric show of self-serving posturing and simplistic solutions, and the focus for the pessimism and apathy of generations. For many, politics now represents all that is wrong with the world, the logical conclusion of neo-liberal dogma- an elite group that only serve their own interests.
But this is what politics has become, not what it truly is, not what in essence it should be. The moment I realised this was the game changer for me- the moment I realised that politics, if used properly, could be a vehicle for social justice, could be a way of fighting inequality, that’s when things changed for me. I think I’ll probably look back on that revelation as one of the most important discoveries of my life, and that’s why I so passionately wish to share it with the world.
So we all need more freedom, power, and knowledge yes- but I believe that ultimately what separates the engaged from the not is optimism. We need to reassess what we think politics really is, and what we believe, if we fight, it can become, I find politics as distressing/boring/reprehensible as everyone else, but I’m not in politics for what it is, I’m in it for what it will be. Don’t make me stand alone.