The new movie Suffragette reminds us, people once gave their lives for the right to vote. So why, over a century later, did 43%of our 18-24 year olds turn up at the polling station at May’s general election? Why are more young people apparently interested in Facebook than in registering to to vote? Can this apparent political apathy be helped ?
Let’s first look at this year’s voting turnout figures as a whole. Although higher than at the last election by 0.6%, it was still a depressingly low figure at just over 66%.
This means that a third of the population didn’t vote this year. In fact this is nothing new. Voter turnout has been in decline since the Second World War.
I believe the root of this problem is in our education system.
As a subject, Politics is currently only offered as an A-level option. It means that younger students are leaving school not having had the opportunity to debate politically or be taught what each different political party stands for. They may have never have had the chance to engage with politics in an educational environment and thereby discover what issues and policies they feel passionate about.
So how can we reignite politics as something interesting and relevant in order to get young people participating in politics and voting again?
Let’s look at what the teaching of politics in our secondary schools could change.
To avoid the danger of indoctrination or biased views, politics would be taught purely as an informative subject – teaching about the history of our democracy, other political systems, and why voting matters. It wouldn’t be a platform for the teacher’s views.
This would give students a chance to learn what each political party stands for as well as the issues currently surrounding the country. Not only would this re-energise young people to become politically active again, but would give them transferable skills across other subjects – skills such as the ability to debate, analysis of statistics, and a greater understanding of current affairs.
With a proper political education, young people would leave school having learnt the preciousness of democracy and the dangers of a dictatorship. Against all the negative hype in the media, they would see that politics is important and relevant. It’s how we make decisions, how we try to make things better for people.
I recently set up a Politics Society at my school. Councillor Robert Everitt, from the Minden Ward, gave a talk, kickstarting the new group. He spoke about the value of political participation for young people being vital to local politics. In this way young people can directly put forward improvements to local communities as a whole.
Armed with knowledge of each political party, the introduction of the subject of Politics into our schools could only be a good thing for young people. They might not think this at the moment but that’s because they haven’t yet experienced the joy and importance of politics.
The time is now.
-- William Partridge is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds