Thoughts

Why Are Young People So Disillusioned With 21st Century Politics?

When Nick Clegg infamously retracted his promise to scrap tuition fees, it dented the moral fabric of the whole of Westminster, not just his party and, in due course, alienated young people.

There are distinct differences in the types of political disillusionment among youth voters. These are divided between deciding not to vote through an educated response to a political topic, such as the expenses scandal, with the other side deciding not to vote due to having no political opinion or, more disconcertingly, simply not caring. That said, with only 43% of the 18-24 age group registering their vote in the 2015 election (the lowest from all age groups), young people’s engagement with politics is disturbingly low.

Whilst one must not dwell on statistics alone, they are certainly a good indication of illustrating just how low youth participation in politics is becoming. To some extent, I see the rise of cheap popular culture, for instance, reality television and the expansion of Sky, playing a role in lowering the engagement levels of the youth. This modern day celebrity-obsessed culture has targeted the youth market to such an extent that many young voters are so passively consumed by their products that they hold opinions on television shows, such as 90210, without having any views on political events, e.g. Syria, which can create a coma of ignorance. In response to this argument, many would say ignorance is bliss, and to an extent, I agree.  However, we live in a time where such an attitude towards political issues will only create an increasingly stagnant political system.

Although I have been critical of certain youth voters in my age group, I do however sympathise with them. The raising of tuition fees was a huge slap in the face for the youth vote. In addition, those who choose not to engage in political affairs have arguably been disillusioned by being bought up in an era of New Labour that promised so much but instead proved to be a mere extension of Thatcher’s free market policies. Since the 1980s, the income inequality gap has only widened further whilst the austerity measures introduced by the coalition government are only worsening future job prospects for the youth of today. Unemployed youths across the country may see little value in investing their time voting for a political party that, in turn, has invested so little in their communities over the years. It is no wonder that many potential youth voters have lost interest in a system which only mentions them concerning their retirement age or increasing tuition fees.

A counter argument could also be made against political apathy among young voters if one points to the demonstrations that occurred in response to the raising of tuition fees, as well as the Occupy movement, both of which attracted young protesters from across the country. These are, however, in my somewhat cynical opinion, isolated instances which have proven to be exceptions to the norm in recent years.

In reality, politics often lacks the appeal needed to access a wider youth audience. Perhaps Russell Brand injected some much-needed charisma and opposing thought back into the political arena, but that was merely a superb critique of a flawed system rather than a solution to existing problems. Increasing political appeal in the future does not need to be drastic, but would benefit from greater transparency and openness within our political system; a place where the youth actually feel like their voice is being heard. A leader who practices what they preach is essentially all that the youth desire, rather than the infamous façade Cameron adopted during his cringe-worthy ‘hug a hoody’ phase.

Ultimately, my generation just wants new energy injected into our regressive political system. As the famous American political commentator Paul Begala said: “Politics is show business for ugly people”. He was spot on: the ugliness of 21st century British politics is why our youth are rejecting politics.

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Tales From My Grandfather

After visiting my grandfather this week in the beautiful surroundings of the Suffolk countryside, part of me saw it as a duty to go. After all, I hadn’t seen him in nine months. So off I went, departing from the hustle and bustle of London Liverpool Street, eventually arriving in the small picturesque market town of Hadleigh.

The moment I opened the door, the joy on his face was priceless. What struck me most was the sheer happiness that not just my grandfather showed, but elderly people in general experience when around young people. It was as if he had turned the clock back 40 years, as he put the pain of his polio to one side and recited his days as an Army General in Kenya as well as his journeys to the remote wilderness of Papua New Guinea. I was hooked and had a childlike excitement I often had when being read to as a child. And the stories only got better as I tried and failed to keep with his two bottles of wine a day drinking habit.

One particular story centred on his days working as a publisher where he was responsible for overseeing the works of great thinkers such as the philosopher Bertrand Rusell as well as describing a telephone call he had with the world famous writer J.R.R. Tolkien. As a journalist, the stories he recited was music to my ears, with one fascinating story after the other rolling off his wise tongue.

Later on that night, with Jazz music playing loudly in the background and on already on my fifth glass of wine, he told me of his encounter with Margaret Thatcher and Sir Dennis at the Ritz. The Ritz is famous for playing live Jazz music in the main tea hall, much to the pleasure of its customers. However, to my grandfather’s annoyance, the music suddenly stopped. “Why was that?” I asked. “The musician told me that Lady Thatcher does not like the sound when she dines here. So after drinking a few glasses, I went over to their table and told Sir Denis that it was rather rude of her to do that. He seemed shocked,” said my granddad, hysterically laughing. Who knew a night in with an 87-year-old could be so entertaining?

Did I mention the stories he told me of being in New York with his good friend, who just happened to be the head of Penguin publishing in their mansion in Greenwich Village? Or the time he attended the funeral of a chief in the remote jungle in New Guinea?

Considering I have been alive for a paltry 25 years, it was incredible to find out about his rich past. It was also a lesson in how we can learn from others. My granddad achieved a lot in his time, and I found out because I eventually took an interest in his life. Every person when they get to a certain age has lived. Everyone has a story. My granddad’s story is a spectacular 89-year journey.

One day I  hope I can eventually tell my grandchildren the stories I heard that one fine evening, knowing that as I gaze towards my departure from life, I can tell myself I lived a life as rich, exciting and fulfilling as he did.