Age of the disengaged? Or a silent political rage?

22 Jun 2016




“It’s so inspiring to see a young person like you, engaged in the political system.”



Words I hear too often, words that on the surface are a compliment towards the active participation of politically enthused young individuals. Yet, why is it that it’s infrequent to see a young person actively involved in making a difference? Why is it that once you see a young person campaigning on remaining in the EU or actively supporting electoral reform, we view it as something so scarce in that we deem it necessary to be bewildered by the fact that a young person may care deeply about current affairs?



“Politics doesn’t affect me.”



When tuition fees rise to £9,000, isn’t it our generation that bears the burden? When the minimum wage is paid at lower rates for 16-17 year olds compared to the older generation of the workforce, will it not affect YOUR standard of living? These are all political decisions made by representatives whom you have the power to elect!



Perhaps if you ask a 16-year-old what their perspective is on George Osborne’s contractionary fiscal budget they will squint at you with puzzled eyes. On the contrary, if asked what their view is on the previously proposed reduction in benefits for the disabled, they’ll have ardent views. Perchance you ask a 16 year-old what was on page 26 of the Conservative manifesto there may be an awkward silence, but once you ask them if they care about mental health or a free education system, they’ll respond with a blizzard of opinions. 



Accessibility is key - once we teach the electorate that politics is about engagement over authority, discussion over conflict, then we propose an enlightened approach on participation in politics. 



We accept that the voter turnout amongst 18-24 year olds may have only been 58% in the 2015 General Election, yet we fail to recognise that this went up from 52% in 2010 and an agonising 38% in 2005.



“The generation who may never vote.”



That’s what the media labels us as - but when a celebrity like Michael Owen openly states that he has not troubled a ballot box in the last three elections, it highlights wider apathy in our political system.



Before we blame the decision not to vote on the younger generation, we must accept that PMQs is a theatrical stage show instead of substantiated debate, and the EU Referendum is viewed through the prism of a battle between Cameron and Boris. It’s arduous to keep up with the news when party politics is seen to be an auditorium of leaders who deem it more important to outshine their opponents than have reasoned debate. When politicians assume that they can do that “extra bit on Twitter” and then claim they’re “in touch with the public”, the public are actually bemused. Instead what we need to see is politics become digitalised and debates between the younger generation and politicians televised.



And then, we need votes at 16. Before you dismiss the concept because you genuinely believe that 16 and 17 year olds aren’t well equipped, experienced or mature enough to place a cross on the ballot box, I pose to you these questions:



When you turn 16, you’re expected to pay taxes because you’re considered a citizen and thus have the duty to do so. Yet being a citizen, you’re denied the right to grant a mandate to your preferred political party who will determine how those taxes are spent. Is this fair?



The state deems you responsible enough at the age of 16 to make pivotal decisions such as the choice to get married or have consensual sex which could produce a baby, but deems you too irresponsible to decide whom you wish to form the government. Is this fair?



In certain circumstances, at the age of 16 you’re expected to pay for prescriptions, dental treatment and eye tests but deprived of the right to determine the future of services in the NHS. Is this fair?



When the Conservative Party try to tell the public that 16 and 17 year-olds don’t have the political education necessary to make an informed decision, they seem to imply that anyone lacking a degree in politics is incapable of making a rational decision about how to vote. Furthermore, 75% of 16 and 17 year-olds casted their vote in the Scottish referendum in 2014 – is this not sufficient evidence to suggest that if you allowed the younger generation the chance to voice their opinion, they will come out in a blizzard to do so?



When you give them the right to vote, surely they will make the effort to educate themselves in order to make an informed decision? Yet, if David Cameron still wants to refrain from implementing votes at 16, if he continues to brand the younger generation as inexperienced, uneducated or immature then why not include political education in the national curriculum, so that we have no reason label young people with these derogatory terms? 



Parliament denied 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote in the EU Referendum because it would cost them £6 million to do so – when did financial restraints become more important than granting the younger generation a chance to determine their own future?



What service are we doing to the younger generation when we deem them educated enough to make decisions on marriage, employment and joining the armed forces but genuinely believe they have no appetite to carry out a political decision? Surely this further enhances the idea that politics is alien to the younger generation and instils a cyclical disengagement between the young and politicians - which is unhealthy in a participatory democracy.


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