The age-old issue of political apathy

Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001
Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001

When the Prime Minister confirmed the date of the referendum on EU membership last week, I got excited. Really excited. Like some hyper-salivating puppy, this is something that I have been anticipating for months.

With the announcement on Sunday that Mayor of London Boris Johnson is to campaign for a Brexit, I tried to convey to people on social media my growing hysteria. Then I remembered. Everybody hates politics.

Some of you might have guessed that I am a slight politics geek. Okay, not slight. I believe that whatever side of the Channel you’d rather be on 23 June - whether you want in, or out - your contribution to the debate is decidedly valuable to anyone that will listen.

Why? Because politics is choked by negativity amongst young people.

The groan that resonates from my rabble of friends every time I try and bring up anything even vaguely political (and believe me, that’s pretty often) becomes so raucous it’s picked up by distant seismometers.

This troubles me. Particularly with young people, we are told, even the word ‘politics’ switches them off to any conversation or debate that might have occurred. If the subject had been Justin Bieber’s new song, we’d have been talking for hours.

This disconnect between youth and current affairs is painted graphically by the low turnout of under-25s at general elections: for the past 20 years or so, nearly 40% of us have not registered a vote.

There’s a problem with this, because it shows that a sizeable proportion of young people are not engaged with issues that affect them profoundly - the NHS, for example, or recent cuts to local government budgets.

We have the power to challenge the government on these issues, to suggest an alternative, to prompt change. But young people do not hang on to this power. We willingly abandon the gift of voting, somehow comfortably unaware that we even have it.

I think there’s a reason for this (and, no, I’m not scapegoating teenage hormones).

The mere existence of the Westminster elite alienates many people. An out-of-touch club that seems to banish from its ranks anyone who hasn’t attended certain public schools is enough for most to give up on politics entirely. Who can blame them?

But that’s why open debate like this one on the EU is so precious. It means that for the next four months, issues, opinions and viewpoints about whether or not we should leave Europe will be inundating us in the media.

Wherever we look, a divisive issue like this one will spark debate and conversation amongst those interested.

For me, at least, it does not matter what your views are. I just think the key principle is that you express your opinions, because the more people that gain an interest in current affairs as a result of this vote, the better.

That way we will all be more aware of what’s going on with Europe, more willing to challenge, more motivated to make change.

What’s geeky about that?

-- Will Allsopp is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds