It doesn’t need to be said again that there is a problem in the UK with engaging young people in politics. They often lack political knowledge compared to older generations, and are consistently less likely to vote. This disproportionality is particularly worrying, given the impact the issues at stake in elections and referendums will have on their futures. Our democracy is less representative, and less effective because of this deficit.
That’s why the team at Talk Politics has put together a manifesto aimed at alleviating political apathy. Specifically, ‘10 Steps to a Better Democracy’ focuses on improving political education, protecting freedom of speech, and cultivating a more productive relationship between constituents and their representatives.
In 2017, the Hansard Society audit reported that only around 30 per cent of people aged between 18-24 had a ‘fair amount’ of knowledge about politics, compared to nearly 60 per cent of 55- to -64 year-olds. Hence, Talk Politics believes that political education is key to tackling political apathy. If people know what Parliament does for them, and how it does it, they will be more likely to directly engage in politics.
Political engagement is played out at many levels. Protesting, petitioning, voting, tweeting — there are a multitude of ways in which people can make their voice heard. Political education should not be limited to the nitty-gritty of political mechanisms, but in our view should also equip people with the skills to question and verify political information. Political change should not be effected on the basis of lies, and every one has a part to play in holding political figures to account.
On this basis, Talk Politics advocates social media training, whereby individuals are encouraged to think critically about the information presented to them online. Tackling political apathy is as much about giving the younger generations a voice with which to challenge and improve the status quo. This is only possible with training specifically targeted at nurturing independence of thought, which has particular relevance given the alarming preeminence of ‘fake news’.
If ignorance is the root of apathy, political literacy will allow young people to make informed political decisions. Hence, the ultimate aim of political education is to encourage people to vote. As the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU showed, the people’s vote can have a truly transformative effect on government policy and Britain’s place on the international stage. The people’s will, as expressed through voting, has given, and will give future governments, their mandate and many of their policies. As the UK exits the EU, the will of the people will undoubtedly play a more important role in public affairs than ever before. If young people do not turn out to vote, the sad truth is that they will remain a lower priority for those campaigning and future governments than other generations. If we want our voices heard, we must exercise our political power, we must vote.
In this context, Talk Politics‘ ‘10 Steps to a Better Democracy’ aims to give young people the confidence to engage with the political system, to ensure that their views are heard and accounted for. Political education will allow us all to take advantage of the unique rights afforded to citizens of a democracy more effectively, so as to have a meaningful impact on the future of the UK.
- Talk Politics and Shout Out UK are delivering political literacy courses. For more information see https://www.shoutoutuk.org/political-literacy-course/
- Briefing paper CBP7501 ‘Political disengagement in the UK: who is disengaged?’, House of Commons Library, 26 April 2017, http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7501#fullreport
- ‘Audit of Political Engagement 14: The 2017 Report’, The Hansard Society, 2017, https://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/research/audit-of-political-engagement
- ‘Can new tech help tackle the political apathy of the younger generations?’, Matt Gillow, 3 April 2017, https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/can-new-tech-help-tackle-political-apathy-younger-generations
- ‘The strange neglect of political education — and how to revive it’, Will Carter, 18 August 2016, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/education/2016/08/strange-neglect-political-education-and-how-revive-it
- ‘Can’t be bothered to vote? If you’re young, you simply can’t afford not to’, Armando Iannucci, 30 April 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/30/young-must-vote-general-election-8-june?CMP=fb_gu
- Video: ‘Would visiting Parliament inspire you to vote?’, BBC, 26 April 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0515b4w