Dear Young People

I am not young, I am middle class, white, and live in a village where, along with 77% of my neighbours, I voted to remain in the EU. However, by a democratic majority in the nation, we are now in the process of leaving. It is time to revision the future, and I have an idea…
We need to enfranchise the young. At the age of 16, anyone born in Britain should be granted citizenship, given the right to vote and be asked in return to join any of the political parties, with free membership until you get a job. The last year in school should have a compulsory module in citizenship, including a constitutional history of Britain, so that everyone is at least informed.
We are living in a ‘democracy’ which relies far too heavily on not having the people involved. I saw this in action when I was a member of the National Union of Journalists. I used to go to the chapel meetings and leave after about half an hour; one day I decided to stay. After half an hour, when most decent, intelligent people had been bored witless by ‘committee dialogue’ and had left, the real business began. It’s how politics operates, and I would like to see that change.
Compulsory membership wouldn’t mean we all have to attend meetings, but we would have a vote.
Today the Labour Party is in turmoil because it cannot reconcile the membership to the party, and vice versa. This is all bad news, but I’m hoping it heralds a new approach, where membership matters.
Referenda are held easily within parties. You get emailed regularly and can always state your views, either to your local candidate or the leader directly. In this digital age, it would cost nothing to have local, in-party voting systems. And then the elected members would at least be informed as to the mood of the party; they would still find ways to go against it, but they could no longer ignore it.
The thing is this, we cannot go on the way we have done in the past, electing candidates every four years, moaning about the leaflets coming through the letterbox, and then going about our business with no engagement at all except the occasional emotional outburst at the TV, or a letter to the MP about the environmental degradation of the community.
If we continue as we are, wanting only what is good for ourselves, and the leisure to play with our phones, to switch off, zone out, or whatever the current parlance is for non-engagement, then we shall be slaves.
As Tacitus said of the conquered Britons: ‘They adopted our dressing fashion, and begun wearing the togas ; little by little they were drawn to touches such as colonnades, baths, and elegant talks. Because they didn’t know better, they called it ‘civilization,’ when it was part of their slavery.’
What he meant was, the Empire knew how to keep the people quiet. It still does.
You have the right and the duty to be part of your country and have a voice in its future. Get out there and demand it.
I always believed that there was no room for emotion in political decision-making, but I think I was wrong. Emotion plays a great part, and gut-feelings are often more reliable, certainly more than opinions formed by the media. But it should always be balanced by Reason. Head and heart together.
I look forward to hearing from you.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Linda. I am a 17 year old student currently working on my A-Levels. I stumbled upon your blog while doing some Sociology homework and found it to be quite intriguing. While I haven’t read many of your posts yet, I felt that I should reply to this one as it was essentially addressing me.
    I completely agree with your point about technology, and the irony of the the digital age. It frustrates me that we are surrounded by technology that can be used to connect the whole country and instantly send messages, crowd-fund and conduct mass polls, and yet we are still forced through an analogue system to decide how our country is governed. And the majority use said technology for consumeristic, egoistic or simply idle aims. Worse still, considering that we live in “the information age”, there is a surprising lack of said information. During the referendum I was actually shocked at the lies and twisted facts being spread about the internet, but more shocked at how firmly these ideas became rooted in people’s minds. It made me realise that the internet and social media, while they can be wonderful ways to share information, can also be used to spread fear, hatred and lies.
    While i’m sure that you are aware of these things, it is not only the older generations who take issue in the way our society is abusing the internet. But this brings me to my next point; disenfranchisement. I feel as though my generation is not only disenfranchised, but opiated to the point where there is little to no will to change that. I’m not sure whether compulsory membership would be an effective way of re-enfranchising young people. The way I see it, everyone would be hurried into the same party as there parents with little room for discussion.
    (This obviously already happens, but without compulsory parties, people have a chance to consider for themselves before becoming engaged in politics. Also, if people truly do not understand politics but are forced to be in a party, it could result in a party that cannot get anything done. From my own experience, people my age generally are not politically involved, but the ones who are do so in their own way, and while they do not have a vote yet, they still express their views. But then perhaps if people were given a reason to be politically active, i.e. a vote, people would become more informed and engaged in politics.)
    Admittedly, I do not study Politics as an A-Level so I could be completely wrong on the matter. The only way I see it changing is through education, so I completely agree that at least citizenship should be compulsory.
    Without wanting to sound pretentious, let me finish on a question. How can young people change the system? This includes the media, the education system, the political and legal system- We are next to face it all. What can we do to start making changes?
    I look forward to your response,

    1. Hi Tenzin. Thank you so much for your long, well-reasoned and passionate response. You have a very clear view of what is going on. ‘Opiated’ is the perfect word. And it’s not only the web that should concern us. I suspect the Brexit campaign was won by the media empire of Rupert Murdoch (I felt like I was being beaten over the head with rolled-up copies of the Daily Mail). I read no newspapers, because even those independent of Murdoch are still dangerous. Many of my friends form their opinions entirely on what they read in the papers and seem to have lost the skill to think for themselves. The best way to form an opinion is by deep reading on any particular subject. For instance, I read the whole of the infamous document about weapons of mass destruction (2002?) and went through the Iraq war and all the blathering of the politicians, especially Blair, with my eyes wide open. Unfortunately there is not the time to do this on every occasion – which is what newspapers are for, essentially, to digest the information for us – but I do do it on issues that are important to me. I have done it with fracking, for instance. It makes my opinion, when I form one, unshakeable. In the absence of such information, I try and stay free of forming any opinion, although that is near impossible. I roam the internet, pick up choice nuggets, follow up when I can. You may despair, but I find Facebook (and to an extent Twitter, although I loathe it), better sources of information than the formal news media.
      I offer this as a lame attempt to answer your question. Another answer would be to study Plato’s Dialogues, because Socrates gained his wisdom by asking questions, and never presuming to know anything. This is such a useful approach to a political life.
      I wrote my piece because I realised that we are reaping the whirlwind right now. At your age, I was politically active, mostly with Friends of the Earth. When I got a career in publishing, I joined the union. I was an International Socialist for about 24 hours, a Liberal for a few years. The problem with politics, especially established parties, is that they are incredibly boring, perhaps deliberately so, and my generation seemed to opt out altogether. We voted at local and national elections and kidded ourselves that was playing our part; we let the politicians do it all for us. We lobbed tomatoes now and again, never, ever plaudits. Politics became a separate world. It affected our world in every way, but we chose to ignore it. And now we all feel disenfranchised, but it is our fault. I was making my suggestions because I’d like to see the young a) get the vote at 16 and b) be involved politically.
      Do read Plato. It’s all there.
      When making any change, one starts with oneself.
      All the very best. If you are representative of your generation, I have hope…

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