Politics. We’re surrounded by it constantly and it seems as though the current media storm won’t be dying down anytime soon. But despite recent turnout figures, there are a few questions we need to answer in order to tackle the perception that at the heart of UK politics, there remains a “problem with young people.” Is there a youth political participation crisis and to what extent does it reach? As young people, just how involved are we? Is social media leading us to harbour a false belief that everyone is as equally and as politically aware as we are? Are we involved or aware enough?
Firstly, let’s start by considering why it is that political participation amongst young people is so low. In the 2017 snap general election, whilst turnout for registered voters aged 18-24 was the highest it had been in 25 years, the youngest voters cast only 10% of all votes. It’s fair to argue that the rise of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity had a significant impact on turnout, but we cannot ignore the continual low voter registration overall percentage amongst young people. There is still clearly a long-term underlying cause.
Perhaps it’s the general disillusionment with the political system as a whole that’s causing low numbers of participation amongst young people. For years now we’ve been overlooked and undermined, with the key issues that affect us being treated with little care or regard. Be it the ever-growing tuition fees, house prices, our right to move to or study in EU countries after Brexit, healthcare or child benefits – the list goes on. Our ‘first past the post’- FPTP– (or ‘winner takes all’) electoral system does very little to help this. Restricted voter choice, unrepresentative outcomes, “wasted” votes and electoral deserts (constituencies that are often ignored by candidates during campaign times) are all disadvantages of FPTP that often have the biggest negative impact on marginalised groups, young voters being one of them.
Let’s take a look at our choice of candidates and political parties. This plays a huge factor in the manifestation of disillusionment. Reviewing the news over the course of the past few months, we’ve seen multiple mishaps by Boris Johnson. A divided Labour Party struggling (and potentially succeeding) to unite after a lost election. Typical Tory backstabbing, a fairly quiet SNP. A Green Party that still has only one elected MP (who managed to double her constituency majority) and a leadership resignation from the Lib Dems. It’s not difficult to see why our generation are lacking in trust and choice when it comes to actively supporting political parties when the ones on offer can barely support themselves.
But what can we do (and what can those in the generations before us do) to improve this increasingly dire situation? At LAPP, we acknowledge and emphasise the importance of having a voice but most importantly, of learning and understanding; so in order to address the needs of not just 18-24 year olds, but of those like me who aren’t quite old enough to vote yet, perhaps we should turn our focus to education.
The extent of political education in secondary schools is pretty poor. A minority will leave Year 11 having been motivated through social media (if you’re lucky enough to find some good, informative Twitter accounts), but the majority will leave with the most basic of information about Parliament and voting. Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (or PSHE) was not compulsory nationwide when I was in secondary school and that was just 2 years ago. So it’s no wonder that so many of us have difficulties when it comes to understanding how elections work, what an MP does or how to play an active role in participation.
But not all hope is lost. A policy paper that explains government amendments to making PSHE compulsory in all schools was just published on the 1st of March this year. With these new amendments, we can hope to see a far more comprehensive curriculum taught in schools across the entire country, with the potential to stimulate and inform a whole new generation of politically aware and active young people. The presence of social media continues to play its part in educating the masses and with the contribution of websites like LAPP, a more optimistic pathway looms for the future of participation and political activism in the UK.
Written by Ella Nevill
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