I realise that I haven’t blogged for a good week now. A combination of factors are responsible. Without going into too much detail, I will say that involves my shock at all the attention my last blog received combined with a complete unwillingness to discuss the entirely shocking brand new information that the people running our financial institutions are morally bankrupt in any depth. It’s not that i’m ignorant about the latter subject, but rather, as my tone may imply, that it’s something I cannot believe people still have the energy to get angry about, nor understand how anyone can be surprised by news of this ilk at this stage in the game. I’m personally considering replacing the popular phrases involving bears defecating in wooded areas and or Papal figures being of the Catholic religion to something involving the overall reprehensibility of Rupert Murdoch and/or bankers. So instead, I have decided to write another companion piece to a Guardian article I read yesterday. This article tackles the idea that democracy is dying in Britain more generally. I thought I should expand on this and deliver my own thoughts on the matter, with particular emphasis on the young, and the deep significance this narrative holds for them.
Firstly, to those that haven’t read the article by John Burn-Murdoch, I highly recommend that you do. It is a well-informed and articulately delivered piece on the great many problems still facing British democracy in 2012, including the lack of reflection of modern demographical trends, the continuing problem of social class in a supposedly classless Britain, and even engaging with ideas such as the decline of political discussion. I am going to focus on the sad state of electoral turnout, and how improving upon this is really the beginning of tackling our overall grievances with politics.
Now, those that know me will recognise me as a person that becomes hugely frustrated with people not using their vote. Unlike some, this is not because of the argument that people fought and died for our suffrage as we know it today, but because across time I have become increasingly convinced that voting in our numbers is the only way anything will ever really change. Particularly depressing is the overwhelming apathy of the young, only 44% of whom voted in the 2010 General Election. However, whilst I lament this fact, I can wholly understand why it is the case. Party political representation at Westminster at the moment is seriously in the doldrums, and before the Labourites prepare to tie me to the stake, allow me to explain myself. I am personally of the opinion that Labour are very probably the best of a now-terrible bunch… but this does not mean that I am enthusiastic or even confident about what they offer in opposition to the other two main parties. Speaking once again from the youthful point of view, there is a definite uncertainty as to whether the Shadow Cabinet represent a government that would be significantly more favourable to our demographic. I am fairly confident that this feeling is shared by many others, who therefore find it extremely difficult to choose who vote for when they are proactive in exercising their democratic rights. That is why they often fail to bother at all.
It may have come to people’s attention recently that young people have become somewhat of a target for the very worst of the government’s ammunition. A buttmonkey, if you will. Writers such as The Guardian’s Shiv Malik have written extensively about how young people are being targeted disproportionately by this government’s cuts. This is not to say that we have ever exactly topped the priority list… we have continually suffered our unfair share of scapegoating as well as a being generally sidelined for a while now. Of course, I must note that some of the reasons for this are out of our control. We cannot help that we have become a smaller demographic in comparison to the swelling percentages hitting middle age, for example. But what irritates me is our seemingly inherent inability to make the connection between our absence at the ballot box and our lack of favourable treatment from those in power.
If we are to list the things that politicians genuinely care about, the thing that will always undoubtedly come out of top regardless of political colour, is electoral success. It’s something that is easy to forget whilst politicians bombard us with rhetoric that tries to convince us otherwise. With this in mind, it is quite simple to see that they can do the basic mathematics and come to the conclusion that young people are not the primary group of people that they need to secure the support of if this is going to happen. As it currently stands, we simply do not pack enough electoral punch for parties to bother trying to appeal to us in any meaningful way. This in turn, is also the reason that we have evolved into what is seen as a safe group to hammer with those supposedly “difficult decisions”, as it is extremely unlikely that those performing the actions will suffer the electoral retribution they deserve. As a contrast, we need not look far to observe an example of how high levels of voting can get a group recognised. At 76%, voter turnout in 2010 amongst those aged 65+ is over 30% higher than the 44% figure I provided earlier for their younger counterparts. I fully believe that statistics such as this are the foremost reason why negative government decisions are not currently aimed at older people to the same degree as they are towards the young. Politicians will actively court the grey vote because they can truly hold the card that determines their status as power and opposition. They will listen to their protests because they know that one bad decision directly involving pensioners could cost them their job, whereas even constant negativity towards the young goes not unnoticed but certainly unpunished. And therein lies the main disparity between us and them.
That last part is a vital point that I must expand upon. Despite the decreasing presence of political discussion that Burn-Murdoch highlights, I do not find that people of my age are uninterested in politics. Infact, I find quite the opposite. As a generation, we have every right to be angry and have demonstrated this feeling on select occasions. One high profile instance of this being the widespread protests against government reform on tuition fees in late 2010. However, I view the tuition fee situation as a note-perfect example of how the government fail to care about what young people think. They knew precisely how we felt because it was made astoundingly difficult to ignore, and yet they still didn’t care enough for this discontent to alter their decision. Why didn’t they care? Largely because issue-by-issue, antagonising young people is arguably far less calamitous in relation to the next election than perhaps, riling pensioners with a policy directed at them. During the first semester of my third year of university, I conducted a group research project investigating engagement with politics and political reaction to how young people were using their voice. The overarching observation that we came away with was that the youth were trying to get involved with politics but were out of turn with how governmental processes actually worked. Speaking to both a civil servant and to a senior elected figure in the Scottish Government, they told us that the most critical thing was that the youth actually got out and voted. Their engagement is observed by decision makers as highly fluctuating and that their objections often came far too late in the game to make any real difference. Young people needed to be on the pulse and most importantly, they needed to be at the ballot box in their droves.
So my intended message is this: vote. This participation means so much more than most of us can possibly imagine. Electoral engagement in numbers could certainly earn us the positive attention we deserve, which in turn will allow for the real discussion that we crave to begin. We have the knowledge and the will for change, and we also have the power. We just need to realise that it begins with the most basic of principles.