West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Votes at 16 to Make Politics Relevant to Young People — who are the Future

Yesterday I asked the friendly young woman cutting my hair in Llandovery if she would vote. Not how she would vote, but whether she would vote at all.

“No,” she said. “I don’t understand enough about it. I don’t know the difference between the parties so I wouldn’t know who to vote for.”

The reply did not exactly surprise me because we know the under-25s are less inclined than other age groups to make their cross (what an anachronism, that). But how can her generation have escaped the torrent of political broadcasting and social media?

Could it be that too many schools try to hold themselves aloof from party politics, as though they give off an unpleasant smell? This attitude debases democracy. Time now to bring the voting age down to 16, and to bring a lot more political discussion into our schools – which will not happen unless secondary schools become more open and enmeshed in their communities.

Meanwhile, the Labour and Conservative Parties assume that

  • We all respond to bribes
  • Democracy is just about the economic system which we have allowed to be created
  • The population is composed of ‘hard-working families’, conjuring a vision of two adults and two children whose lives are dominated by the economic system

Labour had a vision once, a fair deal for the working man – in those days before the gender equality agenda (which remains just an agenda, as enduring pay differentials testify). The vision has withered to a mild form of financial redistribution, leaving the economic superstructure well alone.

Both Labour and Conservatives appear not to question the wisdom of unrestrained capital flows around the globe, or of unlimited corporate power. They differ only at the margins, in that Labour would tax a little more and redistribute a little more. Some choice! LibDems are the in-between party, setting course in between Labour and Conservative, trying to keep the UK in the ‘centre’, which is really the space between marginally lighter and darker shades of exploitation.

The UK-wide parties except the Greens – and here in Wales with the exception of Plaid Cymru – seem to assume that people are motivated primarily by promises of more money today, tomorrow or sometime in the future. That promise is false, though, and undeliverable except to a chosen few. We are polluting our planet and contributing to climate change at such a rate that we should be concerned primarily with environmental restitution and learning to live with lower levels of material consumption, but distributed more evenly than at present.

So how do we change politics to focus less on financial tinkering within the existing system, and a great deal more on creating a politics of human and environmental solidarity? Starting locally here in Carmarthenshire, as well as working to engage young people, how about supporting the work of Transition Tywi Trawsnewid? Transition Tywi and other transition ventures are part of a worldwide movement to develop low-carbon, more resilient communities, to produce more of what we need in sustainable ways (we are destroying our soils, a primary basis of civilisation). The transition movement is not party-political, but could probably do a lot more to influence party policies.

In the party political arena, I have already used my postal vote to back Plaid Cymru, but I admit that I’m still too caught up in the material world because I live in a house which has a moderately large carbon footprint and this week will be flying overseas to complete a piece of work. Yes, I am part of the problem.

Solutions to the problem are a work in progress to create more resilient systems, always provisional, but then all systems must be flexible because the context in which they operate changes continuously.

Yet we now have fixed-term parliaments. Is this wise in a world of perpetual change? Another question for another day.

Before then, there is one vital opportunity to vote!



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2 thoughts on “Votes at 16 to Make Politics Relevant to Young People — who are the Future

  1. There was an exceptionally depressing interview on The Today Program on Thursday with a young mechanic in North Manchester that demonstrated just how disengaged young people are – not just from politics but from real life in general. Bread and circuses spring to mind.

    • We seem to be trying to train young people as cogs in the economic machine, rather than educating them properly, almost as if some leaders don’t really want an educated population.

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