50% is a worryingly low percentage in all contexts except one it would appear. Let me explain. If Chelsea Football Club was only filling 50% of seats, it would be worried. If Ford was only selling 50% of the cars it was manufacturing, it would be worried (not to mention broke). But if turnout for a by-election is 50%, as seen in Eastleigh earlier this year, or even lower than 50% as we saw in the case of South Shields (an alarming 39.2%), then the government appears as though it couldn’t care less. But surely it should.
Popular political participation is the cornerstone of a democracy and a right that millions are still fighting for across the globe, one only has to look towards Syria for evidence of that. And yet our government, even as it pushes for the proliferation of democracy abroad, has not done nearly enough to enshrine and protect the value of this right in the UK. In my view this failing begins primarily with our education system.
Young people are currently taught everything from poetry to Pythagoras, but not politics. Why is this? Is our democratic process not deemed crucial enough to be taught to our children at a young age? Do the stances of our political parties not need to be explained while their minds are still open? Apparently not; low knowledge, low participation and low democratic accountability being the visible results.
Perhaps successive governments have taken the view that education shouldn’t come from the school but rather from the home; that it should be an experience of liberty removed from the interference of the state. To many people, not an unreasonable view. However, surely the two should run together in partnership. Outside the disciplined structure of the education system, political views and opinions are much more likely to be propagandised, as demonstrated by our high levels of ‘traditional voting’ in the UK. Without a necessary knowledge and appreciation of a breadth of issues, how can young people possibly engage in a truly meaningful, independent way?
Perhaps it is also considered a subject too complex and dull for young people. Of course applying this criterion though, it would also be difficult to make an argument in favour of teaching Shakespeare or quadratic equations. Politics, like most subjects, could be made comprehensible and indeed engaging for all. For example, most students, I feel, would certainly enjoy debating as to why Iain Duncan Smith felt he had the bravado to say he could live off £53 a week.
Furthermore, Politics could be made an interactive, stimulating subject through the use of media and the Internet. Online political debate thrives through blogs; an embracement of this within the classroom would lead students to use familiar technology in a way which was productive but also engaging for them (I recommend Backbench as a good start).
Michael Gove may think this radical, illusionary make-believe. But in reality there would be little to lose by implementing these suggestions. Why would politicians not want a politically savvy electorate?
Oh dear, in posing this question, I fear that I may also have answered it (in my own mind at least).