Young people, we are constantly told, don’t care much for politics. A persistent theme in media coverage of general elections is relative apathy amongst first-time voters and their peer group. Political parties try desperately to woo these potentially decisive votes, while commentators voice anxiety about how political language ain’t no good at getting down with the kids. According to MORI, young people are ‘disinterested and disengaged in the political process’ but, simultaneously, ‘do want to influence government and do care about social issues’. Indeed, it is often ethically-aware youth who are ar the forefront of direct action against cheap flights or poverty in Africa.
Many older observers wax nostalgic about the student revolts of the 1960s and 1970s; but are they simply failing to recognise that activism takes a different form today? Arguably, the politics of protest have gone mainstream. Campaigns like Make Poverty History and Live Earth involve worldwide, professionally-organised concerts and ubiquitous wristbands, and are endorsed by politicians as well as celebrities. But is this the problem? Today’s young people often seem less interested in toppling governments and seizing power than in holding politicians to account in implementing their own agendas, most obviously on climate change and the environment. Their tactics and enthusiasm may be different, but the message is familiar. Is this a sign of growing maturity among the young, or simply a dearth of other political ideas? What causes might inspire young people to challenge conventional thinking, as well as livening up mainstream politics?
|Dr Maria Grasso|
lecturer in politics and quantitative methods, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield; author: Generations, Political Participation and Social Change in Western Europe
TELCO organiser, London Citizens
activist and youth worker in North West London
columnist, Independent titles; advisor to Evgeny Lebedev; author, Twirlymen: the unlikely history of cricket’s greatest spin doctors
|Amol Rajan columnist, Independent titles; advisor to Evgeny Lebedev; author, Twirlymen: the unlikely history of cricket’s greatest spin doctors|
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