Sunday, September 23, 2007

Another day, another article on the apathy of youth

So JSP has expanded on her eloquent remarks the other night on Question Time. Which is nice, since it gives me something a little bit more substantial to try to take apart.

Fighting to impose his authority on his party at the end of their annual conference last week, Ming Campbell confronted the age issue head on by asserting that his 66 years make him a better leader than David Cameron (40) or Gordon Brown (56). Utter bilge – Ming's reasoning is as out of date as his jokes.
First off, note that as far as the MSM are concerned, Ming was "stamping his authority on his party", not responding to endless smearing in the MSM, like it looked an awful lot more like he was doing from where I was sat. Also note the standard of debate here: Ming's argument that his experience makes him better qualified to make difficult judgments is rebutted here by... an ad hominem remark about Ming's age (not even a particularly cutting one, at that; anyone who saw the speech acknowledged that the jokes were actually not bad at all).
Although one opinion poll gave the patrician Scot a two-point lead over the Tory toff, does anyone really think that this chap has the charisma to sort out Britain?
Erm.. the people who voted in the poll obviously feel he'd be a better bet than Cameron. Which is the only point that anyone has tried to make off the back of it.
But age is a big issue and Ming was forced to bring it up because a clutch of so-called "young turks" (all white, middle-aged, middle-class males, by the way) in the Lib Dems have let it be known to anyone who'd listen that they'd like the top job.
We have made age a big issue and forced Ming to bring it up, by reading meaning into a clutch of so-called "young turks" (both white, middle-aged, middle-class males, by the way) in the Lib Dems letting it be known to the reporters who asked them about it that one day they would like the top job.
Back to JSP:

They might have spent a decade or two less on the planet than Ming, but this doesn't mean that they are more in tune with a younger generation or any more able to resolve the problems society currently faces dealing with people who haven't even got the vote yet.
Actually, this is probably true - because Ming is actually pretty well placed to deal with all thosee things. After all, we have made proposals (pdf) a damn site more concrete than anyone else has to reform the political system meaningfully. And as JSP rightly points out, the age of the person making the argument is immaterial, it's what they have to say that matters.
Politicians are obsessed with age, and by focusing on his seniority, Ming is acknowledging that. Whether he likes it or not, youthfulness is seen as an asset by a lot of people, not least our previous Prime Minister. Which is surprising, given that we have an ageing population, and the first generation of persioners (sic) hell bent on making 60 the new 40. (I'm proud to be one of these grey baby boomers.) You'd have thought Ming shouldn't even have to bother discussing age as a possible impediment to doing anything, as his successful contemporaries such as Richard Branson, Terence Conran, Paul Smith and the Rolling Stones would find the concept laughable.
Yeah, you'd have thought, wouldn't you?
Even Clement Freud was talking about sex at 70 on the radio the other day before he was ruthlessly cut short. Some things are best not dwelt on too long.
Oh. Apparently some age discrimination is acceptable after all.
Given that they make age an issue, it's interesting that politicians of all parties have not really connected with the younger generation, preferring instead to come up with a variety of solutions to what they see as a breakdown in society – all of which seem to identify a large section of our population (mostly those under 21) as a "problem". Drinking, antisocial behaviour, gun and knife crime, gang culture, lack of employability, illiteracy and drug use do blight a disgracefully large number of these people whose energy and passion could be our biggest asset, but we are never going to get anywhere unless we stop identifying them as a special group purely by age.
Actually, this verges on making some sort of actual sense.
Whenever the next election is, whether it's next month, next spring or a couple of years away, the biggest issue Ming, David and Gordon have to face is how to get a large disenfranchised, uninterested group of people who have never voted to be part of our democracy. These range from young people who commit petty crime to the new generation that has benefited from university education under new Labour. There are 20-year-olds with massive credit card debts – totally uneducated about money – and school leavers who can't read and write properly.
Watch it, Janet, the argument's getting a bit skewed here. I'm sure you'll get back onto the straight and narrow shortly...
It doesn't really matter what age a politician is to me – you can be sympathetic to the problems faced by the young at 95 – they have to start the process of reaching out and engaging with this generation that has been left outside politics. For years politicians never really bothered with first-time voters, believing that it took a huge mortgage and a family to get people to the ballot box where self-interest rules.
...well done, now into the home strait with a call to arms for young people to prove them wrong...
Twenty years down the line, the number of people who feel politics is nothing to do with them is larger than ever before, and the consequences will be disastrous.

How can we have gone from the student protests and political uprisings of the 1960s to torpor and apathy 40 years later? Young people sign up for causes – like the painfully obvious Make Poverty History campaign – but few have any intention of voting. Paradoxically, a new survey shows that it's the over-60s who now behave the way the kids used to do all those years ago, placing having fun and adventure and getting more sex at the top of their wish list.

...Yes! Yes! Go on...

Oh. No, that was the end, apparently. It turns out that Janet didn't particularly feel like making any kind of point today, or putting forward any kind of constructive suggestions, so much as simply taking a quick ramble around the general situation. After all, she has important comments to make about the chuffing Blue Peter cat.

Incidentally, most of the time I feel that my age has absolutely bog all to do with anything, and indeed I hate it when newspapers patronisingly include someone's age after a letter they print (it just seems like the print equivalent of a pat on the head). But just to bolster my credentials to speak for the young (at least, those who can vote), I should point out that I am 20.

So what to make of this? What's frustrating is that she comes so close to explicitly putting her finger on the real issue: Politicians think we as young people aren't worth the effort. They believe that the people who go out and vote are mostly above 30, and the people almost certain to vote are retired.

Can you blame them? They're right. Those are the people who vote. And nobody should expect politics as a system, even the Lib Dems, to make much of young people's issues until young people put themselves on the market, so to speak. Sure, we have policies that address young people's issues: we oppose age discrimination in the minimum wage, we have a whole bunch of proposals on the environment and other things young people are concerned about. But we won't be putting them prominently on leaflets we put through doors when we could be talking to the people who do vote, about 4p off income tax and decentralising the state so that the kind of people who take an interest in local politics can exert real influence over the running of their services. And that means pensioners more than anything else.

The people who keep writing this crap have got things arse-about-face. They make an argument that goes something like:

Young people are disengaged
Politicians must change
Young people will engage.

Whereas in truth:

Young people are disengaged
Young people must re-engage
Politicians will change.

Power has never been interested in bending or retreating because it sees an inherant inequity in the status quo. It has been made to bend by people who suffered from those inherant inequities deciding to do something about it. (If I'm sounding like a socialist or something, sorry, but I've got my Democrat hat on today, not my Liberal hat.)

And politicians have thick skins; so thick, in fact, that for the price of listening to the occasional sound of a whiny young person telling them they don't feel engaged, they are quite happy to have one fewer categories of people to try and appeal to. Whingeing as a way of achieving real political change has never worked, certainly not unless it was something that the establishment kind of wanted anyway, or unless it was clear that this would not be the end of matters if the whingeing was ignored.

Young people need to get out there and hit the system where it hurts. Even if there isn't someone they particularly want to vote for, they need to demonstrate simply that they are not a category to be ignored, by achieving some kind of real shift in the electoral arithmetic. Quite honestly, I don't know what that would be (although I'd love it to include electing some Lib Dems, obv). Only then will main parties start campaigning with them in mind.

I will stop banging on about this subject now.

No comments: