The question: Is politics for young people? Is one that seems fairly obvious from my perspective. Yes, politics is for young people- politics is for everyone. Politics isn’t simply a subject; it’s an aspect of life; it’s a part of society; it’s what allows society to function.
The Kenny Report- written by Kenny Imafidon, launched today- touches on this question. Within the Kenny Report, Imafidon analyses the reasons for and against votes at 16. As a strong believer in votes at 16 it made me challenge my thoughts and feelings on the subject. It also analyses the role of voter registration and how the changes in this system will affect engagement in the political system. Lastly, the report interestingly argues for the role of the school in the political engagement of young people.
This report is an incredibly interesting and an insightful read. Drawing upon the study, what I want this article to focus on is the strong link between conscious voter registration and political education. In 2011, 44% of people who were not registered to vote did not actually know this and believed they were. This is alarming- suggesting that people are sleepwalking into political dormancy. It also implies that people are turned off by democracy and simply don’t care. Before we can even justly talking about votes at 16 I believe that it is crucial to analyse the relationship between voter registration and citizenship and political education. Indeed, I believe the foundation of a stable democracy is the ability to consciously participate, and that stems from effective education
I am not completely dismissing the idea of votes at 16; I am saying that there are fundamental issues that need to be resolved here. The want and the need to register to vote should be incited by education, and I thoroughly believe that without resourceful education there can never be a true intention to participate in democracy. One of the ways that the Kenny Report states we can get more young people registering to vote is by using the same tactics as the American system ‘Rock the Vote,’ who have now joined with ‘Bite the Ballot’ in promoting the new Voter Mobilisation Bill. Rock the Vote is a system in which they use youth culture to promote the importance of voting. Its most striking and effective outreach is through phone calls to young people, as well as canvassing and social media.
The Individual Electoral Registration is the new way in which people will have to register to vote. Instead of one person in the household being responsible for the registration of all inhabitants, each person of age will register themselves. This system is being introduced due to concerns with the current system regarding integrity and fraud. Though this new system seems like an improvement, there are still problems regarding the extent to which people know about it. According to the Kenny Report, when the Individual Electoral Registration system was introduced in Northern Ireland, they saw a 10.5% reduction in the level of voter registration. This is very worrying as- according to the Electoral Commission’s study in December 2011- Britain’s electoral registers only count for around 85-87% of the able voting population. This equates to around 8.5 million unregistered people. Can we really afford to sacrifice more voters if this is the case?
Moreover, despite all of the reforms, being able to vote doesn’t mean you will vote. This is where the votes at 16 arguments lose steam. Young people need to have a true passion for democracy; they need to be able to see a reason for voting- what purpose it serves them to be able to vote. This is not something we can force; it is something that must be second nature.
Naturally, this is where the idea of education comes in. The Kenny Report suggests that:
One way to mould young people into responsible individuals who will fulfil their civic duties and can make positive impacts on their communities is through citizenship classes at school.
This is something I fully agree with. Political education is something every young person should be entitled to; every individual has the right to know and understand the society they live in. Though this is something many politicians say they believe in, do they actually believe in it? We have seen attempts by UNITE union to create videos to be shown in school that encourage and educate young people to take a stand on issues they believe in. However, this was met by much distaste from critics including MPs. Nigels Adams MP even compared these videos to that of North Korea's media outlets (I believe this to be absolute absurd and simply wrong).
A teacher merely stating that students should vote is not enough; young people need to be empowered and engaged. I do not have all the answers, but one thing I do know is that it will take something radical. We need to bring out the civil citizen in every student and allow them to feel free and embrace that fact. If, and only if, we mange to engage the up-and-coming generation in politics will we see an increase in the level of people who are consciously registering to vote, putting an end to political dormancy.
By Chante Joseph