By Sophie Gregory
Party politics is not working. The number of 18-25 year olds currently turning out to vote for some abstract manifesto, which may or may not be fulfilled, is (unsurprisingly) consistently low.
With ‘First Past The Post’ leaving millions of people feeling unrepresented, the entrenched two- (sometimes three-) party system means that choice is limited. The constant mendacity of political conduct means that it is easy to sympathise with those who state, ‘I just don’t care anymore’.
This is a nationwide issue – a recent Demos and British Council report, Next Generation, reported, in fact, that 54% of young people do not believe that British politics today reflects issues that are important to them. Many also reported feeling that national political action is simply ineffective.
However, the apathy and disillusionment that we are so quick to condemn should actually be something we use to propel a change in our political system and our attitudes towards it.
It’s time, I think, to stop and reconsider our party political approach. A divisive politics – of blame, spin, electioneering, and manipulation – can’t act as the foundation for the development of a unified nation. It just doesn’t seem feasible to me, or to swathes of disillusioned youth, that the corruption of this political climate can give rise to something positive for a society that is increasingly divided.
We can use apathy to propel a change in our political system
I would go as far as to suggest that attempting to increase the numbers of people turning out to vote in a political system denounced as being unresponsive is a means of treating the symptom rather than the cause of the issue.
It’s clear, then, that after years of being misled, and with trust in politicians ailing, we cannot expect people to gladly vote every five years and feel as though they have contributed to the improvement of their society. True engagement, I think, is making it our duty to actively pursue and work towards the kind of society we want – which I hope we can all universally agree will be tolerant, equitable, and unified.
True engagement is working towards the tolerant and equitable society we want
In order to give not only young people, but all people, a feeling of empowerment back, we need to understand that work at a local level can be taken up at a national one. Meaningful change, day-to-day enfranchisement, must be rooted in the work we do within our local communities. It’s time to think internationally, but act locally.
This has already begun to happen. People, rather than politicians, have looked to start foodbanks, to engage in collective social action, to respond to the needs of their communities. Directing our efforts into things we can change, rather than arguing about things that we can’t, will make a positive difference.
To bring about tangible change, then, we must begin by understanding the needs of our neighbours, whilst building cohesion and community spirit. This is, in my opinion, the way to combat the disillusionment and apathy of an alienated generation. It’s time to recognise that generous, dedicated and consistent work to improve relations within the community can do more to create a harmonious and united society than a vote in a ballot box – in real terms. If our politics becomes more localised, and individuals can see how their efforts, opinions and needs are being met and responded to, the indifference and alienation that seems to have seeped into national politics can be truly countered.
We must understand our neighbours’ needs and build community spirit
I think that a local politics that does not rely on flashy campaigns at a national level but rather the praiseworthy character and trustworthy reputation of local candidates would be more attractive to people who feel like our current political system does nothing to improve their lives or the lives of those around them.
Votes, then, cast in the belief that they will directly make a difference to the local community and, as a consequence, to the wider national community, are surely more ‘democratic’ and engaged than votes cast strategically in the hope of making a difference at the national level.
Our focus on national politics has left many feeling powerless
Inevitably, there are systemic issues that need to be addressed and for that the machinery of government is necessary, but in order to ensure that this machinery works well, we need the community level to be at the foundation of our politics.
The issue is not that people are apathetic, but that our focus on national politics has left those with enthusiasm feeling powerless. Look to your community, and you may be able to make the meaningful change that casting your vote never quite seemed to achieve.
Photograph: Mr. Gray via Flickr and Creative Commons