More United Member Ben Ballard, 16, on why politics needs to change to make space for young people.
In an era of Donald Trump, Jacob Rees Mogg and Brexit, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for young people to get excited about politics. A 2014 BBC study found that just 31% of citizens aged 16 to 24 were ‘fairly or very interested’ in politics - a fact which was was exhibited in the 2016 Brexit referendum where only 64% of 18-24 year-olds voted compared to the 90% of voters over the age of 65. This highlights the devastating extent to which apathetic and straight-up problematic attitudes towards participating in politics are growing amongst young people.
The divisive nature and bigoted undertones of the Brexit campaign have left young people questioning whether UK politics is worth engaging with. You only have to look at the inner conflict of the Conservative party to see why young people feel turned off. We live in a political climate where a polarisation of ideology and a rise in extreme views has led to a general apathy wherein young people believe that there is no integrity left in politics. Division is unhealthy in all facets of life. To rescue our young people from a life of disengagement from politics, we need a more united Parliament and a more united Britain.
Divisive politics will only ever breed hatred for the system, persuading young people that our democracy is impaired and not worth their time. Where this youthful apathy does not exist, it has been replaced by the rise of a new wing of unconventional engagement in the British political sphere. Young people, like myself, are set to inherit problems that we see as having been caused by the traditional political elite of previous decades, wherein an incapacitated NHS, exclusive house prices and a feeble pound have all become regular fixtures.
Rather than embracing the traditional political organisations that engendered this environment, young people are taking action through alternative means of political participation. The relative success of movements like Our Future Our Choice – a group of young people intent on rejecting the process of exiting the European Union - highlights the extent to which teens and young adults feel failed by Britain’s political system. Similar to the American ‘Beat generation’ of the 1950s or the ‘Lost generation’ of the 1920s, these young people feel alienated from the society within which they exist and have been galvanised to rise up and take political action in a new way. Non-traditional political organisations like Our Future Our Choice and More United, despite their different goals, represent a catalyst for a new form of political engagement for young people which will reinvigorate the allure of British politics.
These movements thrive amongst young people because it gives them a voice in a society where they feel muted. One of the fundamental flaws of our representative democracy is that large portions of the population don’t feel represented at all. Britain is an incredibly culturally diverse nation and yet our Parliament is frighteningly homogenous in class, race and gender. It's difficult for young people from Ethnic minority backgrounds to feel enthused about an elitist club of haughty Etonians with posh accents and Full Windsor knots. This club excludes not only Ethnic minorities but equally women and in 2018, 100 years after women gained the right to vote, female representation is still a deeply troubling issue in the United Kingdom. While Theresa May’s cabinet is a vast improvement on previous governments, women are still wholly under-represented in Parliament. Ethnic minorities and women need to be more represented in Parliament to convince the average young person that politics is as accessible to them as it is to everyone else.
A recent reed.co.uk study showed that 23 percent of boys aged 8-10 wanted to be footballers when they grow up. It’s comical to imagine a 9 year-old suggesting that they want to be the MP for Lewisham East, I'm not suggesting that it's necessarily the solution. But the reason being an MP appeals so little to the average young person is because they either don’t know what it entails, think it drab and dull or feel that politics has nothing to do with them. Children want to be footballers because they grow up watching their idols make their dreams come true. I’m certainly not suggesting that Theresa May pull out some dusty Adidas Predators from the Downing Street cupboards and start practising her free-kicks but she and all other MPs need to show that they care about every young person in Britain so that every young person in Britain can care about them.