Should we teach politics in school? Should we make it mandatory? How else can we encourage teenagers to have an active interest in British politics?
It is a difficult issue to raise, many believe that school is not the place for politics and should be unbiased. However, I feel that schools should be doing far more to encourage teenagers to be more politically aware at the very least.
Over the past decade we have witnessed a major decrease in young voters turning out at General, European and Local elections. 2005 saw the lowest percentage of voters from the 18-24 age category, a meagre 38.2%. The 2010 turnout stood at an improved, yet still shocking, 51.8%. These statistics were consciously highlighted in a Parliamentary report filed in 2013. More needs to be done to tackle the falling interest of our youngest voters in the build up to the May 2015 General election, or else we face a dark period where low turnout does not fully represent the many opinions that is the make-up of our modern society.
The sudden drop, noticeable since the 1997 General election, should be a major concern to our political parties as their membership numbers have also dwindled in the same period. Those in the 18-24 bracket have drifted away from the idea that their vote actually does mean something in a democracy like the UK. Perhaps the youngest category feel disillusioned with politics and a image that Westminster simply does not recognise, nor does it want to listen to their opinion on the future direction of our society. Who can blame them? Although the doors to Parliament have opened, Westminster still feels as exclusive and distant from the average British street as it was throughout most of the twentieth century.
So how can we rectify this problem?
For a start we should be doing far more to encourage political dialogue in schools, sixth forms and colleges. Here young people start to bind together a view of the world and shape their own beliefs on society. Of course we should not pressurize our youth, nor should we force opinions upon the next generation which is often a sore point in the whole debate. Nevertheless, if we do not allow them to express views or a chance to form ideas in a classroom environment then we are seriously damaging the next electorate.
Yes, when students are packed of to university they often become more politically aware. But we need to give young people the tools and information to help them understand the ideology behind the different parties. Simple steps may well inspire the next generation of leaders.
I am under no illusion that there are politically conscious young people, perhaps they are even politically active members of the Conservatives, Labour etc. But we should be doing far more to stimulate interest and allow the brightest minds to be mobilised to our frontbenches and in doing so break the Westminster Bubble.
Thanks for reading. JRM