We are not to be blamed for our political apathy.

The Government is. 

PoliticalBeat
By Will Matthias (@WillMatthias15)
_______________
http://www.personal.psu.edu/ejd5136/nobodyvotes.jpg
Educating people about the power of their ballot is the only way to stem the problem of political apathy. (Photo: Pennsylvania State University)

We consider ourselves lucky in this country to live in one of the modern western democracies. Our political system has been long fought for and we are the envy of many nations across the globe. However, like most things, there are those of us who take this right for granted; it shouldn’t be a privilege to vote, but not using your right seems preposterous to me. Apathy in this country is quickly becoming a crisis and it seems to be mostly ignored by the system.

On Thursday 5 February, I was lucky enough to take part in a public speaking event at my college, run by the Rotary Club, where I discussed this issue alongside my close friends. It was an enlightening discussion, where we examined the current scale of the crisis and possible measures which can be implemented to resolve it.  

As can be seen in the table below, voter turnout has continued to decrease in every election since 2001. A solution to this problem that engages the public, promotes the political system and should tackle the apathy issue is education. Teaching secondary school students politics in place of the current (and useless) Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) could save our political system. Being taught about the political system and the extensive influence it has should open the eyes of the next generation of voters.

General election turnout since 1945, by region
Year
UK
England
Wales
Scotland
N.Ireland
2010
65.1
65.5
64.7
63.8
57.6
2005
61.4
61.3
62.6
60.8
62.9
2001
59.4
59.2
61.6
58.2
68
1997
71.4
71.4
73.5
71.3
67.1
1992
77.7
78
79.7
75.5
69.8
1987
75.3
75.4
78.9
75.1
67
1983
72.7
72.5
76.1
72.7
72.9
1979
76
75.9
79.4
76.8
67.7
1974 Oct
72.8
72.6
76.6
74.8
67.7
1974 Feb
78.8
79
80
79
69.9
1970
72
71.4
77.4
74.1
76.6
1966
75.8
75.9
79
76
66.1
1964
77.1
77
80.1
77.6
71.7
1959
78.7
78.9
82.6
78.1
65.9
1955
76.8
76.9
79.6
75.1
74.1
1951
82.6
82.7
84.4
81.2
79.9
1950
83.9
84.4
84.8
80.9
77.4
1945
72.8
73.4
75.7
69
67.4
Source: House of Commons Research Papers 01/37, 01/54, 05/33 & 10/36.

If this educational reform were to become a reality, it is entirely possible that a change to the voting age would become reasonable to consider, giving 16 and 17 year olds the chance to vote to make a difference to their own politics, their own government and ultimately their own lives. Without education, the average 18 year old reaches their milestone birthday already disengaged! This means one of two things: a large number of uneducated voters or an equally large number of people who don’t bother to vote at all. It seems insane to allow such a vital influence on our lives to be regarded in this way. 

Taking part in the public speaking event led my friends and I to seek out our own statistics to reinforce our point. Rather than taking these facts from dry secondary sources online, we visited several schools in Staffordshire and the table below contains our results:

Question

Percentage of Correct Answers (%)

Do you know what an MP is?

39%

What is the name of your MP?

12%

Do you know what a political party is?

40%

Can you name two political parties?

21%

What is the name of the current Prime Minister?

72%

To which political party does he belong?

23%

What is the name of the current Deputy Prime Minster?

26%

Do you understand the difference between Left and Right Wing?

8%

Match the party to the correct political leaning?

3%


It’s obvious then that more needs to be done to inform and educate young people in the workings of the political system and the reasons it exists. 


As an additional point of reference, my friends and I contacted two senior MPs about the issue to ask their opinions. The first of these MPs was Nicky Morgan (current Education Secretary). Rather than a reply from the elected official herself, we were bounced around Westminster until we landed at the desk of an unelected civil servant in the Democratic Engagement Team who failed to tell us anything we didn’t already know. The second MP was Dr Tristram Hunt (Shadow Education Secretary) and once again, no reply from the honourable gentleman. 

MPs know apathy is an issue and they also know it’s not going away any time soon. They’re unwilling to comment perhaps, because it’s so difficult to answer or perhaps because they have an answer, but they know we won’t like it.

The undeniable fact remains, exclusion and inaction on the part of schools is breeding political apathy in this country. 

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