The Independent View: No One Ever Told Me About Politics

no one ever told me about politics“I’ve been wanting to be more clued-up on politics for a while – and I know lots of other people my age feel the same way – but it always seems so complicated and it’s hard to know where to start”. Kate, 25

A few days ago, a year ahead of the next UK general election, a new cross-party initiative called No One Ever Told Me About Politics was launched to tackle the pressing issue of political disengagement amongst people in their 20s and 30s.

The challenge is significant: 68% of people aged 25 to 34 say they know not very much or nothing at all about politics whilst 46% are unlikely to vote in an immediate general election [pdf].

No One Ever Told Me About Politics (www.tellmeaboutpolitics.com) provides engaging, jargon-free content to inform and inspire people in their 20s and 30s about politics. The campaign is also developing a WhatsApp-style online tool and app with a virtual person who can answer questions about politics, as well as organising a series of café-style events with the Parliamentary Outreach team.

There are assumptions that people in their 20s and 30s are disengaged, and some are, but we think there’s another problem – many people our age group lack the knowledge and confidence to participate. Our democracy needs them but we’re ignoring them, and if we continue like this, what state is our democracy going to be in in 20 years’ time?

We don’t think it is fair that people are shut out because no one ever told them about politics. The good news is that research shows that although they feel disconnected, people in their 20s and 30s actually have a bigger desire to be informed than people of other ages.

The campaign is encouraging people who are already involved in politics to share www.tellmeaboutpolitics.com and @explainpolitics with their friends and colleagues, and to use it as a resource when talking to people about democracy and politics.

* Emma is a founding member of No One Ever Told Me About Politics

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24 Comments

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '14 - 3:40pm

    An excellent initiative Emma. Good luck.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th May '14 - 3:58pm

    I was initially happy to see such an article, but when I read the website I detected a left-wing bias and then was disappointed when on diversity there is a section for women, but nothing for disadvantaged young men. This is not a feminist campaign that I am interrupting by asking “what about the men”, but one aimed at young people as a whole.

    Best wishes

  • Charles Rothwell 13th May '14 - 4:50pm

    Best wishes. The logical place where young people should be informed about Politics would seem to me to be in school. What happened to the “Citizenship” teaching initiative which was gearing up ten years or so ago? As with other concerns about sections of young people in this country (e.g. teenage pregnancies), I find it very dispiriting that, after a minimum of eleven years of compulsory full-time education, so many young people should apparently leave school knowing so little about the absolutely basic things which are going to affect them (sexual relationships, parenthood, financial management, political institutions and ideas etc.) HOW can it happen that (according to the PDF document cited by Emma “68% (!!!!) of young people aged 25 to 34 say they know not very much or nothing at all about politics”. This horrendously high figure (if accurate) is very frightening for the future of our democracy, represents a truly lousy return on the thousands in state funding spent in the said eleven years of compulsory education and means that, if the extended to restraining from voting, the young people’s interests will not be taken on board adequately (e.g. as in the latest Budget which was very firmly focused on the wrinkly vote indeed!) Hope the initiative Emma refers to does something to reverse all this (and I really do not care if it is ‘left biased’ or even ‘feminist biased’; surely the key thing is to start to try and make up for the years of neglect experienced in school!)

  • There is more to this than just telling young people about politics, the question I regularly get asked by under 35s is not nobody ever told me but what do politics/politicians ever do for me?

    A self perpetuating circle has developed where older people vote and as such every party tunes the message to those who will vote, rather than persuading those who would not vote to vote, as such the under 35s are hit with the bad news, whilst more mature age groups are more protected. You only have to look at the pensions triple lock being brought in at the same time as tuition fees were trebled to see examples of what young people perceive as political injustice even if not totally true.

    You cant blame a political party for aiming policies and messages at those who are likely to a) vote or b) make the difference between winning an election and those who will not, and equally you can’t blame under 35s for staying away from the ballot box when no party offers answers to their problems.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '14 - 5:57pm

    @ MW
    Its chicken or egg though isn’t it?

    May I point out that many of we older people have children and grandchildren and when we vote, our concerns are not simply focussed on the narrow self interest of our own age group. We’ve had our opportunities and it is often the opportunities , or lack of them, of the next generation that influences our voting behaviour.

    It is your party that has supported the ‘triple lock” pension and reneged on the pledge on tuition fees. Despite the fact that we the elderly are more likely to vote, have these policies done you any favours electorally?

  • Richard Dean 13th May '14 - 5:59pm

    Excellent initiative. Like Helen, I am surprised at today’s relative lack of interest. Maybe MW has a point, but also the main impression you get from the media is that choosing career is politics is just setting yourself up for insults, lies, and all manner of devious tricks to be tried against you. Plus you have to deal with people who think everything is some kind of left-wing radical feminist trick, or ultra-right nationalist homophobic trick, or some such nonsense. Good people are being put off the career itself, and something needs to be done about that too.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '14 - 6:12pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle,
    Insofar as I will every say anything good about UKIP, it is opening up a clear ideological divide. Hopefully the law of unintended consequences will mean that its rise in popularity will fire up young people who are currently disengaged from politics.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th May '14 - 6:15pm

    Thanks Emma. I really appreciate the positive response. I have some ideas and I will try to use the contact form on the website.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '14 - 6:17pm

    @ Emma Taylor,
    Thank you for the link. I can’t comment on its appeal to a younger audience. My judgments on such things are usually met with a disbelieving, ‘Oh Mum’ or ‘ Oh granny”.

  • David Allen 13th May '14 - 8:02pm

    In a depressingly simple way, politicians a generation ago used to tell the truth. Labour promised to soak the rich. They did. The Tories promised to soak the poor. That happened too. If you voted for one of these class parties, your voted counted. You got the shift in tax and wealth that you were looking for.

    Then along came Blair, who had ditched all his principles, and who also wanted to ditch a narrow appeal to society’s poor and losers. So Blair claimed that he was modernity, competence, management, and not a lot else. Now, the parties compete in terms of what they say about economic policy – and of course, nobody really knows whether austerity works or not, it is all barnstorming and bluffmanship. As to whose interests they serve, the answer is always the rich. The rich sponsor all the parties, Labour included, and they get what they pay for. You won’t get any party to help the poor these days, not even Labour. So you can’t vote for simple outcomes like you used to.

    That’s why it is all “complicated”, largely futile, and bereft of ideals and principles.

    The Lib Dems used to have real principles. Then the Cleggites and the hedge funders bought them up. Now they are just another useless party that won’t rock the capitalist boat (not even when the ice-shelf melts).

  • It may be that I’m just feeling a little depressed, but I am having by no means optimistic visions of the future. Basically, we could end up with a lot of very narrow outcomes in the forthcoming elections which leave all major parties lacking in legitimacy, result in widespread disillusionment by the public, and a further rise in influence by fringe parties like UKIP or worse.

  • David Allen, goodness me you really are in the Slough of Despond! This is most unlike you – normally you gee up the rest of us with your perceptive comments. Don’t despair, things could be worse. We don’t live in a war-zone thank goodness, we haven’t had floods for a while and there are even some Elections coming up to energise the political landscape.

  • MICHAEL PROCTOR 14th May '14 - 8:46am

    POLITICS from the public’s point of view is I think we don’t know the half of it and never will.

  • A really good initiative, Emma

    I like the idea of the website and I think it’s been worded in a way that is honest, open and broadly fair. I would make two suggestions for improvement:

    In the politics class and throughout the website, the only differentiator between different political views is the Left versus Right spectrum – and even this is defined rather crudely. But there are now so many differentiators which don’t easily fit into left versus right. To take two examples.. Internationalist (eg. pro-European) versus Nationalist. There are lots of right wing nationalists, but there are left wing ones too – wanting protectionism rather than free trade for example. Some years ago there were far more opponents of the EU on the left as there were on the right. In some countries this is still the case – Poland for example has a thatcherite party which is staunchly pro-EU. In this country, the Lib Dems are the main pro-EU party. Another example is libertarian versus authoritarian. Again, there are lots of authoritarians on both left and right.

    The second suggestion is that a bit more is made of the effect our electoral system has on the type of politics we have. You could point out that most other countries have proportional electoral systems which tend to elect a wider spectrum of parties. In the UK for example, about a third of voters don’t vote Tory or Labour – but they don’t elect many MPs as the system hugely favours Labour and the Tories.

  • There is always some resistance of most young people to what is learnt in school. Besides, learning about the formalities of the system is one thing and learning about the realities of political life is another, Teachers and school will always be very nervous about political controversy, but it’s the controversy that’s both fascinating and a barrier. So I think this is an excellent idea. Young people will look to the internet for information and ideas both while they’re still at school and after – and not so young people too.

  • Robert Wootton 20th May '14 - 1:42pm

    I think it is very important that everyone who is eligible to vote should vote. In the hundredth anniversary of the start of WW1 and the sacrifices made by that generation of young people and the people who fought and died in WW2, it seems dishonourable to me not to vote.

    When one looks at countries that do not have a tradition of electoral democracy, political argument seems to be conducted through violence and civil war.

    In established democracies that exist in the UK and other western states, I would say that words are bullets, political argument are the artillery shells to destroy opposing arguments and ethical and morality based arguments are nuclear bombs that have the ability to annihilate partisan, ideologically based arguments.

    A famous politician once said that “Jaw jaw is bette-r than war- war.

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