In this newspaper, I’m trying to raise awareness about the problems within politics and political education. Everything I cover and put forward are merely suggestions for solutions and nothing more. I am deeply concerned about the state of political awareness within my generation; the lack of knowledge and understanding scares me. This is meant to be a democracy, where every individual has his or her say, but with the lack of understanding and engagement from my generation, I don’t feel that this is being achieved. We are the future. But, what future do we really have if we do not vote wisely and have enough of an undearstanding to pass on to the next generation?
Something needs to be done. I’m not saying I am the person to solve this, or even be involved in any solution. I simply feel that young people should have a greater knowledge and involvement in politics. Hopefully, with what is written and illustrated within these pages, may inspire the right person to take action. Or even just sit down with their children or siblings and discuss and teach politics over dinner, rather than watch TV.
We are the future, we need to take responsibility for this.
“Don’t be so quick to count out the teenagers. Some of the world’s greatest changes, brilliant poetry, and innovations have come from the teenage mind.”
Articles written by Edward Sonnex & Miles Chandler
Who Represents Us?
If I asked you the question, who do you feel represents you in Parliament? I would love to be able to say that I felt that a politician represented me, and stood for the things that matter to me and my generation. However, I don’t feel I can do this, and I wonder if you can? 75% of 18 to 24s said that they do not trust politicians to fulfil their promises. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, admitted that he and his party broke a promise to voters over student tuition fees. Standing in for David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Question Time, he conceded that he had “not been able to deliver the policy that we held in opposition” after abandoning a pledge to scrap university fees altogether. It is probably no wonder that the majority of 18-24 year olds do not trust politicians or the Government.
If youth voters felt that their voices were being heard and listened to, they probably wouldn’t have protested in the streets about the rise of university fees or rioted in the summer or 2013. This to me seems to be the only way that our generation gets noticed. This is not how it should be. We are all given the option to vote once we are 18, but the three major parties are led by people who appear to me to be detached from the real world. They are all from privileged backgrounds, educated in public schools, and are Oxbridge alumni and they are very hard to identify with. In order to change this, we need politicians who understand the youth point of view and who we feel we can trust.
You could argue that, my arguments are narrow-mindedly focussed on youth issues and looking only to the short term. A general election is roughly every five years, and soon after the next one (most likely in 2015) I will have gone through uni and into a job (hopefully), then my whole outlook and opinions may have completely changed. But I have only been on this earth 19 years, and I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable about politics, the wisest, or even the smartest in the room. However, one thing I feel sure of is that I want to gain more political knowledge, become wiser, and maybe aspire to be the second or third smartest in the room… To do that I feel that I need to be valued by the government and taught about the political system to give me a basis on which I can form my own opinions and views. It doesn’t seem to me too much to ask to feel confident in voting for a party which I can trust and who will do as they say and keep their promises about their policies in the long term.
A lot of my generation (including myself) do think in the short-term, rather than the bigger picture, but that is the prerogative of youth. If there was more political education for upcoming and first-time voters, you would end up with an informed and engaged electorate, and that has got to be worth having.
The Two Faces of Politics
In our modern day world of social media, constant media coverage, and 24/7 monitoring of our lives, privacy for politicians and indeed all of us is a now thing of the past.
In just a few short years, social media has transformed our lives to a huge degree, yet, it has probably transformed politics even more. Politicians have been used to being trusted and taken at their word. Now, in just a few clicks their words can be undermined. We are now constantly bombarded with details of politician’s personal lives and questions about their integrity and honesty is now the norm. It has become almost impossible to filter the truth from the gossip, muck raking and scandals.
Politicians use of social media to create a positive face for themselves has often back fired but it also can work incredibly well when used right. For example, Obama, making jokes and taking selfies, endears him to the public. He is already an accomplished user of social media or at least his team are and it probably won him the election. On the other hand UKIP attempts to start trends on twitter and to gain more support through social media has often completely backfired when one of their candidates says something racist, sexist or simply outrageous. Social media followers will let nothing go, there is nowhere to hide.
We now have to play a game of cat and mouse with the truth. You have to find a way through the bluster, the slander and the lying. Perhaps it has always been this way but now it is easier to get information. Too much information. So what do we do? In truth, I don’t know, but I am worried about the future.
I can’t make my mind up as to whether the social media age is good for politics or not. It certainly forces everyone to be more transparent and increasingly, the law is catching up (or trying to) with regulation. It simply is very easy to be swayed by what you see and much harder to push through the noise and slanging, and there seems to be far more of it than in the past. The future relationship between politics and social media is going to be incredibly interesting as politicians get savvier and detractors get more risk averse. As time goes on, social media may be the best way to filter the bad from the good, and create a more honest political system. Either that or we will continue to swim through the muddy waters left behind by all sides.
The Root Of Our Troubles By Miles Chandler
UK students pay the third highest university fees in the world, while our neighbours in France cough up a mere £150 per year. In Scandinavia, students from across Europe study for free. On top of this spit-in-your-face ridiculousness, a recent government report concedes it is ‘highly uncertain’ that the £27000 debt stomached by each and every student will end up saving the taxpayer any money whatsoever. Great one Dave and Nick. At the same time, income inequality is at a 20 year peak: three new food banks are opened every day to support the half million people who cannot afford to feed themselves. We are one of the 7 richest nations on the planet- how is this acceptable, or even possible? This government has made the UK the ‘world’s biggest tax haven’ , and even now plans a substantial cut to tax for high earners (over £150kp/a) simultaneously with budget cuts which are leaving NHS hospitals to face huge debt, to over-work staff, and to sacrifice quality of care. Other public services are suffering due to the crippling self interest of Con-Lib policy: 40% teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years in the face of the unreasonable criticism and demands spouted by our ‘Education’ Secretary Michael Gove.
Don’t tell me these politicians act in the best interests of Britain. Don’t succumb to the PR bombardment accompanying every policy announcement. Privatising services; dismantling social policy on an epic scale; using the scapegoats of benefit ‘scroungers’ to justify the Bedroom tax; preying on the poorest sections of society to solve economic problems rooted in financial mismanagement by the rich and powerful: this is not democracy. We live under a political system in which party leaders can promise ‘the greenest government ever’ or to protect university fees, then shamelessly renege on their assurances without fear of recall by their constituents. MPs can abuse their expenses and then attempt to award themselves an 11% pay rise without risking losing their jobs. We live under what is effectively a five year dictatorship.
Huge numbers will not bother to vote in next year’s general election, too apathetic towards the range of parties to take advantage of the right to vote, won through hundreds of years of campaigning. Far from being an insult to democracy, this is entirely logical view with the current first past the post voting system. There is no danger of an extremist takeover: your constituency will invariably be blue, red, possibly yellow, and the cabinet will be dominated by white, middle-aged, privately educated men. The three party stronghold will not be challenged by UKIP or the Green Party in 2015 because our voting system does not give small parties the voice that their share of the vote deserves.
This is the root of our troubles, and there is, for once, a magic bullet solution to a representative parliament. The Danes have learnt it, along with most of Scandinavia, and it is the reason why they are among the least corrupt, happiest, healthiest nations in the world. Proportional Representation, for all its flaws, is the nearest to perfect democracy we can get, in which every vote is effective and the parliament accurately represents the diversity of opinion present in the nation. The ability to recall an MP if they vote against the wishes of their constituents is also fundamental to true democracy. With these two changes, all future issues will be addressed by a diverse, accountable parliament, forced to compromise in order to act in the interests of the entire nation, not just the 1%. Don’t get me wrong, this would be the beginning of a long road, requiring experimentation and vigilance in the development of a culture of negotiation and concession. But this is a road along which we must take the first step.
Our Secret Weapon
The theory is that everyone having a single vote produces the most accurate representation of the population’s opinions and beliefs. In reality it doesn’t quite work like this as unequal turnout gives older and more affluent voters disproportionate influence in the ballot box. This in turn ensures a vicious cycle of disaffection and underrepresentation for the younger generation. One of the ideas that the Government has come up with to fix this problem is to lower the voting age to 16. However, the sheer lack of adequate political education for the younger generation means that few will probably vote. Only 14% of people aged 18 to 24 believe that they have had enough political education and 27% of them believe they have had none at all. It’s hard to believe that, as a generation, we are expected to vote wisely and be well informed in elections, when no one throughout our education has taught us about the process, the effects, and the importance of voting in local and national elections.
Maybe, if voting became compulsory this could change, as 44% of 18 to 24’s said that they would take more than active interest in politics if voting became compulsory. An impressive 72% also said that they feel that mock elections and political debates within school would better prepare them to vote when the time came. The most alarming statistic of all, is that 57% of 18 to 24s feel that the current political system does not work.
The Institute for Public Policy Research found that the UK has one of the largest differences in voter turnout between young and old people in Europe. Turnout rates among the young have fallen significantly and so there is less incentive for politicians to pay attention to them. As a young person myself, I find this indifference quite difficult to fathom, as I strongly believe that our generation is the one that will be most affected by the majority of decisions within Parliament. Our opinions should matter more than they do currently. Introducing a compulsory vote could well help reinvigorate democracy as it would make politicians target first-time voters and arm them with a feeling of greater political power. While 63% of 18-year-olds said that they were interested in politics, only 32% actually voted, thereby reducing the potential voting power of the younger generation by half.
Politicians, though notoriously short term in their thinking, should invest more time in young voters as their engagement in the process early on in their lives, would reap rewards in terms of voter numbers but also enhancing the profile of the parties. If the current young generation is politically engaged and interested, they will probably encourage their children to be engaged and interested and hopefully it will create an ongoing cycle bringing about a much better educated and engaged electorate. This is what I believe democracy should be all about.
If the currently disenfranchised young people became interested in politics and felt that they could actually make a difference by getting involved in the political system, it could radically affect the makeup of Parliament. The proportions of privately educated politicians could, for once, become a minority to reflect their true numbers in society, making room for a more diverse group of MP’s reflecting society’s ethnic, religious, gender and generational mix .
If voting were compulsory for young people, would that ensure a more engaged electorate between the ages of 18 and 24? In 2013 local elections, an estimated 32% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, compared with 72% of those aged over 65. This begs the question, is 18 to 24-year-olds a demographic which doesn’t hold much value to politicians in comparison to those aged over 65? Australia has just celebrated their 100th anniversary of compulsory voting and their overall turnout is 94% at the last general election, in comparison to 64% in the UK and 57% in the United States.
However, is compulsory voting in a democracy a contradiction in terms? Long-time Australian political insider and commentator Paula Matthewson, who makes a conscious decision not to vote and pays the fine instead, says the problem goes beyond young voters. “The idea that high voter turnout based on compulsory voting translates into a politically engaged electorate is nonsensical. If we moved to a voluntary system, with the level of disenchantment and disengaged voters we have now, no one would vote.” Also, 10% of Australians are not registered and, according to the Australian Election Commission, a third of the overall numbers of eligible voters who are not enrolled are between 18 and 24 years old. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made mobilising the youth vote central to his 2013 campaign.
Rohan Wenn, spokesperson for the non-partisan political advocacy group Get Up!, says the current system protects the rights of marginalised groups. “If you look at the international experience, in non-compulsory voting systems, the people who don’t vote are the poor and disenfranchised and those are exactly the people we think should be voting.”
It would be easy to argue the high voter turnout doesn’t mean that the electorate is engaged. However it strongly encourages it and based on my survey suggesting that 44% of 18 to 24-year-olds would take more than active interest in politics and 33% saying that they might do, certainly supports this. Even if the youth don’t engage themselves more after compulsory voting is put in place, it would still represent a more accurate picture of their opinions and desires than the system does currently.
There seems to be many different ways of encouraging and educating young people into voting wisely and getting their voices heard, and it’s hard to say which way is the best. However, the one certainty is that something needs to change as a 32% voting turnout is simply not a democratic vote. Whether the people who didn’t vote felt it wouldn’t make a difference or they felt that the system just didn’t work or they simply did not know enough, either way this needs to be addressed. Political education needs to increase and youth engagement in politics should be valued far higher than it currently is.
Despite feeling passionate about youth engagement in politics, I can confess that I was one of the 68% who didn’t vote in the last 2013 local elections. I feel the education system let me down and did not inform me or educate me about the political parties and what they stand for. Not wanting to feel isolated and unheard within the country’s political system, I have made a point of learning more about it myself, but I still feel that I am one of this country’s lost votes.