IDebates, which have been championed by The Independent for a number of years, returned to Leeds last Tuesday (February 2nd), discussing the contentious topic surrounding the inclusion of young people in the political sphere. The debate was chaired by Steve Richards, a columnist for The Independent, who heard opinions from two newly elected ministers: Kevin Hollinrake (Conservative MP) and Stuart Donaldson (SNP MP) along with Natalie Bennett (the leader of the Green Party) and Leeds’ own MP, Hilary Benn (Shadow Foreign Secretary). Unsurprisingly, all panellists contested that British politics does do enough for young people with Hollinrake convincing audience members that “there is opportunity for people if they’re willing to step forward”.
The initial question (does British politics do enough for young people?) inspired within me two differing lines of thought: do Britain’s existing political paradigms do enough for young people and does the British political system do enough for young people. Questions from the audience tended to focus on the latter of the two, with questions focusing on the effectiveness of local government and whether young people would be more incentivised to vote if there existed a more proportional electoral process.
First Past the Post (FPTP) has been brought up time after time in modern politics as due to the rising of ‘smaller’ parties, the bipolarised battle between Labour and the Tories has weakened. However, as Benn highlighted, the nation comprehensively rejected the AV referendum back in 2011, which would have allowed voters to rank the parliamentary candidates in order of preference. Hence, it is not the electoral process that disenfranchises the youth but rather the policies that the parties propagate. As we move away from the two-party system, we move away from party politics; the youth, as I have observed, allow their vote to be dictated by individual policies, see the membership of the Green Party – 30% of its members are under 30 and their most known policies include more emphasis on mental health, free education and widening the electorate with the inclusion of those aged 16 and 17.
It’s no secret that voting is in decline. According to the Guardian, young people in the UK vote less than young people in any other EU country. Considering the excessive price of tuition fees, the state of the housing market and the domination of male voice in the house of commons, it is no surprise that students feel ignored and let down by the government.
The system of British politics impoverishes the youth in regards to their political voice. When asked about the prospect of lowering the voting age to 16, Bennett and Hollinrake had conflicting views: “it is the wrong time to change the rules on voting” said the Conservative MP, as the EU referendum is up and coming. What’s controversial about this thought process is that the long-term effects of the referendum will impact the youth massively, but many argue the economic results of the outcome is yet to be understood by under 18s.
This brings about the issue that I find most urgent when it comes to politics and the youth – the implementation of politics on the National Curriculum. As it stands, (at least in my past educational institutions) to study politics through the curriculum, you have to be of A-level age: 16. For me, it is this that has provoked this question and the debate on Tuesday. If there was a chance for children to study politics at school, the youth would be more knowledgeable about the system of government that dictates their life and would be better informed to cast a vote in elections, local, European or general.
Words: Sophia Brockley and Olivia Woollam