Our new writer, Emily Hawkins, sums up why most young people believe in Russell Brand, don’t care about Westminster, hate politicians and why our democracy is smelling stagnant. But it doesn’t have to stay that way, and all of society has a part to play.
By Emily Hawkins
|See for yourself. (source: globalresearch.ca)
Last year a hirsute, haughty Jeremy Paxman interviewed the eccentric and seemingly enlightened Russell Brand while reclining in the chair of an upmarket London hotel. The video of this exchange caught the attention of the Great British public, and quickly acquired over 9 million YouTube views. Debates were sparked on dozens of daytime television programmes. Derogatory headlines were splashed across hundreds of tabloids suggestive of Brand’s hypocrisy.
Many broadsheet journalists wrote critical columns, and millions of people listened. Brand’s view of a corrupt British political system, which exploits the poor and only profits the elite, is not in itself a revolutionary or unheard one. It is in fact one that the majority of our peer group tend to agree with. However, the combination of unconventional eloquence and an energetic, unwavering rhetoric was one that captured the interest of people who would not have previously cared about whether you should feel obligated to vote or not.
Those who were unaffected by pamphlets, speeches and manifestos in the past, were now the ones fervently typing blog comments and in ardent arguments on political rights with their friends. In fact in eight minutes and thirty seconds, the comedian triggered a response in the demographic with the largest divide between politicians: teenagers.
|Russell Brand’s argument
While Brand declared his voting abstinence at eighteen down to “being a bit busy being a drug addict”, this is not a reason that can be applied to all of the millions of young people not registered to vote in the forthcoming election and those who do not even know the name of the man running the country. So what is the solution for breaking the current political paradigm?
For young people to object to the current system by not voting could debatably only provide an easy pathway for far right wing parties such as Ukip to sweep into Parliament and power. Whether this would in fact be an advantageous occurrence for young people and for Britain in general is again debatable, but I think it would be more than fair to say that most young people would not see this as an advantage at all.
Indeed, when I contacted the former BNP leader and MEP Nick Griffin on a whim, I was not expecting a reply on the issue. However, the one I did receive met my expectations, when he replied by putting forward the belief that “as so many young people don’t vote anyway, reducing the age would be futile” and that voting rights should be “tied” to the completion’ of National Service. Disillusionment and irritation does not seem so absurd when these are the messages, albeit that being a rather extreme example, that young people are presented with by politicians.
Despite my personal ease of being able to contact politicians through the internet, there is clearly no doubt that there is a broken link in the relationship between young people and politics. Young people are commonly typecast as being more passionate about X Factor votes than those of parliamentary elections. Common conclusions are that any mass investment of interest into pop culture by young people must render them totally void of any intelligence on current affairs. In saying this, the belief that, while pop culture plays a starring role in young people’s lives, politics seems to be a timid character always hiding in the wings, is one with a certain amount of weight to it.
This typical view of teenagers and young adults being blinded by a culture of consumerism and immediate gratification is one never left unturned, and one that the aforementioned Russell Brand concurs with. Speaking to The Huffington Post, Brand called the media out as a distraction apparatus for young people, notoriously saying “They want you talking about Justin Bieber. About twerking. They don’t want you talking about fracking.”
Following this, the recent debates on whether the voting age should be lowered to 16 seem nonsensical, particularly with more than half of 18-24 year olds not even being registered to vote. However, from speaking to young people, it is evident that it isn’t a lack of interest stopping young people participating in politics, but more a lack of understanding and a general consensus of a feeling of alienation. A study from the beginning of the millennium, by the sociologist Clarissa White, found that a majority of 14-24 year olds’ images and beliefs of politics were mostly based on a lack of trust in politicians to represent their interests.
|What most of us think (source)
With the increasing influence of social media there is no doubt that becoming politically interested has never been more accessible. Indeed, I was able to contact multifarious political parties and spokespeople with mere clicks and clatters of keyboard keys. My local MP, Henry Smith, replied to my query about the issue of young people being disconnected from politics, suggesting that young people should be passionate about living in a democratic society and that encouraging the next generation to participate politically is vital.
Furthermore, the Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England, Catherine Bearder’s response was to inform me of Bite the Ballot, an organisation set up to “tackle the exact problem” of young people being politically disconnected. The group are non-partisan, despite a strong Lib Dem backing, and encourage young people to vote for whichever beliefs they are passionate about. Bite the Ballot suggest that “Democracy is meant to be representative and active – and at the moment, it’s neither”, a fitting verdict on the current situation. There are a plethora of political ideologies on the voting age being lowered; the question is how important young people’s investment in politics really is. However, it is not their views that matter; it is ours.
Even though it may feel as if there are more than miles between us as young people and the senior politicians arguing in Westminster, we hold more power than we think we do. Christopher Lasch once said, “We are all revolutionaries now, addicts of change”. Let us not forget the role that social networking has played in the legalisation of gay marriage in the last few years, and in raising awareness of other social issues.
The first step is education.
Voting is a right that 18–24 year olds should feel able to exercise, and there have many movements to encourage registration and participation in the General Election in a few months’ time. Notably, the organisation Voting Counts will send pamphlets and information packs about how the political system in Britain works to your school with an easy application through their website; it is a very accessible and non-partisan source of knowledge about UK politics.
In the words of the infamous Russell Brand, “Some people were just getting on with their lives, being young. And it simply won’t do.”
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