The Economist recently produced an article suggesting that millennials are the smartest generation ever. New technology is forever improving global connectivity, and young people are capitalising on it - we are as innovative, and ambitious, as ever. More young people than ever are going in to university or higher education - and exam results are continually improving.
Why, then, are young people not voting?
In the UK 2015 general election, only 43 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds crossed the ballot. This was followed by Britain's referendum on EU membership, where according to estimates only 36 per cent of the younger generation turned up to the booths. This political apathy is in no way the result of a 'stupid' generation, nor an 'ignorant' one. It has been birthed by a university culture that stifles debate, sweeping feelings of anti-establishmentarianism, and a lack of political education in schools. In short; those with access to politics are not granting opportunity to those without.
There is a growing consensus that young people have a voice worth listening to. Mhairi Black (Scottish National Party) is the youngest Member of Parliament in 350 years. Across the spectrum, it is accepted that in the younger generation, we have a huge sector who are under-represented - and indeed, a sector that must be celebrated rather than nannied. Nicky Morgan MP, former Secretary of State for Education, said to us that: "politics matters and TalkPolitics is a welcome voice in challenging everyone, but particularly younger voters, to make sure they take an active interest in what politicians are debating and deciding and don’t let others have a say for them."
At TalkPolitics, we believe that in order to strengthen the voice of young people, we should all have at least a basic level of political education. In doing so, we improve debate, dispel popular myths, and improve government accountability. The Conservative Party don’t hate the poor. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t associate with terrorists. The Green Party don’t only want to legalise marijuana. Certainly, had we been able to look through party bias and media spin, the Brexit debate wouldn’t have been half as divisive.
We’re delighted with the immediate reception our campaigns have received. We’re calling for more political education in and around schools (we’re delivering it with ShoutOutUK) and also running our own 'Politics Put Simply' series on our blog. In these articles, we put partisan politics to one side and try to strip down debates to the facts and also evaluate the functions of key institutions and figures in British politics. This should help voters make a more informed vote. Our work is more important now than ever with the tide of "fake news" that’s making its way into politics. That’s why we have a "Mythbuster" series on out blog which seeks to separate fact from fiction. One week we debunked myths about Jeremy Corbyn, the next Lady Thatcher. Further, we’re working in Westminster with Bite the Ballot and leading academics to discuss the best ways to improve democratic participation. In short, we’re busy people right now.
One of the most exciting things I’ve discovered since founding TalkPolitics is that young people want to be politically educated - and indeed want to join our group to help others get engaged, completely dispelling the myth that young people don’t care about politics. The main issue seems to be that 'people don’t know where to start learning', or that 'political education is too daunting'. What those with access need to do is start breaking down the doors for others. Tim Farron MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats, put it brilliantly to us: "Politics affects virtually everything, person and place you encounter on a daily basis, and it’s absolutely essential that as many people get engaged in the political process as possible. This especially concerns younger people." Louise Haigh MP agrees – "the more young people take an interest in politics, the more politics will work for them, and the more representative our democracy will be."
In the technological age, increasingly more people are being brought together every second. Discussion and debate is more open than ever before, and a new wealth of resources are available to challenge and change your opinions. We’re delighted by the prospect of people tackling the big questions together, but more needs to be done to encourage young people to start building their knowledge and expressing their opinions.
Ultimately, politics and economics is only really exciting once you begin to get involved. At TalkPolitics, we believe it would be a shame to let the world pass you by without making your mark on it.