By Hannah Gravett
For most young people about to turn eighteen, teetering on the cusp of adulthood means only one thing, and this was very much the case for me. We might splutter our protests, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe I am wrong in asserting that for the majority of us, coming of age brought the prospect of alcohol, clubs and social freedom. Even from the perspective of a politics A-Level student, I don’t seem to remember my freshly acquired right to vote topping my newfound ability to buy my very own bottle of Lambrini from the local Tesco Express.
Call me a party-pooper, but shouldn’t having a say in our country’s future be more exciting than downing our first jagerbomb on a dance floor to Drake? No? Frankly, I could hardly blame you if you disagreed, I’m sure that the vast majority of us applied for our provisional licences to use as IDs before ever thinking to register to vote.
With each year I am becoming increasingly nervous when talking to friends and acquaintances about politics. Despite the ever-growing engagement of young adults in current affairs – thanks to the phenomenon of social media and instant access to news and information – I still come into alarmingly frequent contact with apathy amongst people my age, and honestly at times I find it hard to blame them. Yes, young people are paying more attention to the political climate in our country, but in the 2019 election only 47% of 18-24 year-olds turned out to vote compared to 54% in 2017. I really do believe that youth voters are still falling short.
The discomfort I sense in this very real feeling of discontent has led me to wonder: should we be starting kids young when it comes to politics?
I don’t necessarily believe that we should suddenly thrust the right to vote into the arms of sixteen year-olds, because ultimately we are still left with the same underlying issue: a lack of education.
The world of politics has always seemed to be me to be far out of my reach. Understanding how our country is run feels as though it is reserved for the privately educated, predominantly white and, let’s be real, posh. Perhaps political disenchantment amongst young people isn’t out of rebellion or boredom. Perhaps we just feel miles away from the green leather of the House of Commons, and I really do believe that this stems from confusion. A career in politics is as daunting to a GCSE History student as a biology student looking to become a open heart surgeon, but no child walks straight out of Year 11 and suddenly finds themselves with a pair of scalpels, cannula and a willing patient. Both careers take time, and most importantly, teaching.
In 2020, it seems almost inconceivable that secondary school students in Britain are not obliged to take some form of compulsory and (crucially) unbiased politics lessons. Surely understanding how your country is run is equally necessary in a child’s development as maths and science. After all, not everyone will become a scientist or mathematician, but every single one of us will have the right as citizens to vote in general elections. Why then would we not want our children to know how they should be voting?
In the age of fake news, social media and PR, developing an understanding of politics as a young person is a minefield, with each of us battling with what is the truth and what is not. Children are enormously impacted by the party loyalty of their parents, peers and who they follow online. But if they were to attend weekly unbiased lessons covering the very basics of the political wing and the stances of the biggest parties in the UK, hundreds of thousands of school children might then be able to make up their own mind about which party best fits their interests and values once they become eligible to vote.
Not only would a political education ensure more engaged participation and informed youth voter turnout in Britain, but we might even begin to see the gradual emergence of a more diverse parliament, one which better represents the wider electorate. According to the Sutton Trust, “nearly a quarter of all current MPs went to Oxbridge, for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. That compares to less than 1 percent of the UK population who went to Oxbridge. MPs are still far more likely than their constituents to have been privately educated, and the pace of change is slow.”
Understanding the ways in which your country is run shouldn’t be a privilege or something to be earned, it should be a right. I strongly believe that education will result in a far more representative parliament in years to come. Basic understanding of politics may spark interest in children than would otherwise never consider a career in politics. Levelling the political playing field in private and state schools alike will surely lead to a wider variety of people in government that actually represent the general public.
Of course there are exceptions and I don’t wish to generalise all of the many dedicated and passionate MPs that just want to do right by the electorate, but I’m just so tired of seeing the same cookie cutter figures at the very heart of the British government. I know that very basic politics lessons can only do so much, but perhaps compulsory politics in school would begin to sow the seeds of a new generation of political activists that change how we see politics.
Hannah Gravett is a second year English Literature with Politics at the University of Surrey.