‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education’. — Franklin D. Roosevelt
We are living in a time in which the line between the truth and the distorted truth has become dangerously blurred. The turbulent year of 2016 was filled with distorted facts as well as blatant lies by both politicians and the media on both sides of the political spectrum.
The Oxford Dictionary’s decision to make ‘post-truth‘ their word of the year accurately portrayed a year of immense gullibility on behalf of the general public in believing whatever sounds nice without knowing whether there is evidence to back-up what they believe to be true. The official ‘Vote Leave’ campaign falsely claimed that leaving the EU would result in a £350 million a week injection into the NHS. While some people swiftly laughed the claim off, it is vital to comprehend that tens of thousands, if not millions, of people, believed that this money would go to the NHS if they voted for Brexit. This is an example of a gravely dangerous democratic deficit which exists in the UK and across the globe.
The general public has not been equipped with the necessary skills to properly evaluate claims by certain individuals and organisations, or policies from political parties. This means that separating the truth from the twisted truth is presently extremely challenging. Had these people known that it is a fact that we do not give the EU £350 million pounds a week without anything in return, Vote Leave‘s ‘big red bus’ would have been ridiculed by everyone, not just remainers.
We are living in a time where sly politicians and the media can manipulate the feelings and political opinions of those not informed enough to make their own political judgements, which is sadly a large portion of the population. For these reasons, there has never been a more important time for young people to attain a competent level of political and economic literacy, analyse party policies and distinguish truth from distortions of it.
Now is the time to act.
We cannot let present and future generations continue on this undemocratic and destructive path which can have dire consequences.
Political education in schools should not even have to be a debate in the twenty-first century. Schools need to be given the necessary tools to teach future generations how the UK democratic system works. Most schools do not offer politics at GCSE level, meaning that the only time the UK democratic process is taught in schools is in the Government and Politics A-level course which has seen a double digit fall in take-up subjects.
Quite simply, there is no sufficient political education given at schools anywhere in the UK. In my opinion, it is this lack of education and awareness of politics which has led to the widespread apathy among young people in today’s society. Even following the recent general election, 18- to 24-year-olds were far less likely to vote compared to those aged over 65.
Without sufficient pressure, the government will not confront this issue. Think about it from their perspective. Why would the government want to tackle voter apathy? We saw how the increased youth turnout in the recent general election contributed to the surprising result of a Conservative minority government. Imagine if the youth turnout would have been over 70 per cent, like the 65+ turnout consistently is. This could change the whole political makeup of the UK; a change which many in government would not be happy with.
Political education could be the key to removing a large portion of the voter apathy among young people in Britain. Once young people realise the importance of politics and its potential to create meaningful change, the youth will pay attention to what goes on in Westminster. Once this occurs, politicians in turn will make sure that the concerns of young people across the country are properly addressed.
I commend Matteo Bergamini and the Shout Out UK team for being the first organisation which I have come across to actively confront this issue.
I sincerely hope that the online political literacy course launching in September will be the success it so desperately needs to be, and that the government will begin paying serious attention to the grave democratic deficit — something that is spearheading the re-emergence of unsettling populist and nationalist movements across the globe.
I am pushing for the Youth Parliament to make political education one of its national campaigns for 2018.