Political Promise

Youth Participation: A Political Paradox

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 9:19 am

It seems that the issue of youth engagement in the political process has become something of an intractable problem. From personal experience, politics seems to be a non-issue to many of those under thirty. Politicians are seen as distant, their role obscure, their decisions self-interested and their words far removed from the everyday experience of the British youth.

This disconnection of the young from the political process has manifested itself in two significant and alarming trends in modern British politics. Firstly, the young in Britain do not exercise their right to vote. Only 45% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 eligible to vote in the 2005 General Election did so.  This both stimulates and demonstrates a sense that the young in Britain are a voiceless group. Politicians will not listen to a group that does not mobilise to a sufficient extent to impact the electoral process. Not all young people are ill-informed and uninterested in politics. But given the low level of turnout amongst the young, their issues are often treated as niche concerns. The paradox resulting from low turnout amongst the young in Britain is that it drives turnout down still further.

Secondly, youth membership of political parties is in perennial decline. This both damages the parties themselves, and further discourages youth involvement in politics. Without a dynamic and active young membership, political parties are in serious danger of becoming decrepit and reactionary organisations. On a more practical note, an aging membership forces a political party to abandon traditional grass roots campaigning. As such, they become reliant on professional services to spread their message, and must increasingly seek greater sums of money to be able to properly function. As a result of this, they must further focus upon those in society with money to contribute, rather than the young, whose main contribution is energy. The lack of a vocal young membership mean issues of importance to the young are decided upon by a generation they feel alienated from. Thus, the cycle perpetuates itself, with ever greater youth disaffection with the political process.

Proposed solutions to this problem are manifest. But suffice it to say, when politicians have attempted to appeal to the young, they have failed to breakdown the division between generations, and have often appeared idiotic in the attempt. This is not to say this problem is unsolvable. The presidential campaign of Barack Obama in the United States demonstrates that given a cause in which they believe, and a candidate in whom they have faith, the young are capable of exercising their power. But given the want of inspirational candidates in contemporary British politics, the present malaise is likely to be with us for some time.

Alexander Guest

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