Amidst an economic crisis and a multitude of other important international decisions, there seems to be no time like the present to discuss the involvement of the general public and, in particular, the youth in politics. The UK Youth Parliament in England was established less than 10 years ago and now has more than 500 elected members and deputies, as well as a clearly laid out manifesto proving young people can organise themselves and make a difference. Moreover, youth organisations within Europe seem to somewhat outnumber international cooperative participation, there being 34 National Youth Councils partaking in the European Youth Forum, compared to there being a mere 27 member states of the European Union.
Yet, I can firmly assert – as a twenty year old, still in higher education – the presence, acknowledgement and encouragement for the youth to partake in such political activity is scarce, even when it is invoked. At school, the UK’s political system was briefly summed up and crammed into just a few ‘PHSE’ (Personal Health and Social Education) lessons – through the combined use of a text book and an uninterested teacher which, naturally, made for uninterested students. At AS Level those who chose to could take a course in politics ; those who chose not to might encounter points of political relevance briefly, in historical terms, on another course, but generally would remain oblivious to how the UK is governed and what it means when we vote in an election – if we vote.
Which brings me to my next point : voting in the 2000s has been lower than at any other point since 1945, by a difference of at least 6.3%. There are fears that turnout for 2012 will turn out to be as low as 32% for England and 38% for Scotland at a time when, more than ever, one would think a political consciousness is important : this country is in the midst of a double dip recession ; all of Europe is still struggling to cope with the dilemma, countries disagreeing internally and with each other on the best way to emerge from the situation. An ever diminishing turn out implies that as new generations reach the age at which they can vote every year, each successive generation becomes less interested in doing so.
Who is seeking out for young people ?
So is anything being done to increase young people’s awareness and knowledge of British politics ? The BBC’s school report might be a permanent presence on the BBC News website but it’s only on the television once a year, proving the government is out of touch with its youth : yes, young people in Britain are, for the most part, glued to their computer screens but the BBC News website is not something they are deliberately seeking out whilst the BBC news on television they are – subconsciously, if not otherwise – subjected to whilst parents, relatives, older siblings watch it in the house.
Furthermore The Independent, in 2010, quoted the results of a survey of 1,000 British teenagers, 86% of whom said they felt they were portrayed negatively by newspapers. This might seem irrelevant but it is all part of the problem : as human beings, respect is vital for the youth to feel their vote counts, whilst if they don’t vote their opinion will be less respected by the rest of the public and the government… and so on.
In crucial times such as these, times of crisis when the world’s respective governments become of infinite importance, the electorate obviously follow suit, their collective opinion mattering more than ever. Worrying drops in the turnout levels for elections, however, suggest that in the times when the public’s views matter most the public is speaking up less. Perhaps the way in which the youth are educated and involved in politics in the UK needs to be reviewed if we are to ensure that the youth do not become entirely estranged from those who are making the decisions that will affect them throughout their lives.