The other day I attended a Fringe event about young people. At the age of 20, I probably count as one myself, especially in the context of conference. The listing in the fringe guide was as follows:
MTV and Electoral Reform Society
Are you listening?
A panel of young people take politicians to task.
18.15 – 19.30
Old Ship Hotel, Gresham Suite
And that would indeed be a fairly accurate description. But the trouble I had here is that I felt completely at odds with the young people on offer. The politicians in question who were being taken to task were Simon Hughes MP, Norman Baker MP, and Mark Gettleson (chair of LDYS). All of whom I felt much more affinity with than the “young people”.
The trouble I have is that increasingly, I think politicians in general are getting into a bit of a business of self-flagellation on this kind of issue. Yes, we have a problem that young people, even those who are really quite interested in “Issues” are not connecting with the traditional party process. But increasingly, I am convinced, the problem is basically that these young people are simply infuriatingly self-centred. They claim to be interested in politics and in issues, and yet, most of the ones I have ever spoken to have never been sufficiently interested to actually, ooh, I dunno, find out what the different parties’ policies on their particular issues are and support one.
Today it has never been easier for parties to make their policy available, unadulterated by the necessities for simplification and spin that the media and campaigning have generally imposed, freely on the internet. And so, they have. It’s really quite easy to go on our website, or that of any other party for that matter, and find out what their policies are. When these precocious whingers who claim to speak for young people admonish us that we are not “engaging” them, they are effectively throwing their rattle out the pram screaming “I’m not interested in you! MAKE ME INTERESTED IN YOU!”.
Frankly, it’s not our job to. If young people can’t be arsed to actually engage in the political process, then what are we meant to do about it? As Zoe Williams wrote a while back now:
Nobody is being entirely straight with these young putative apathetics. Nobody wants to look fusty, so everybody’s trying to think outside the box. Bored with politics? Try an internet poll! Try a survey on your mobile! …
It’s dishonest: the correct answer is, bored with politics? Shut up, then. Get used to your economic status. Bored with middle-class men? Vote them out. They’re only there by mandate, they have no superhuman powers. Bored with tax solutions? Well, they are boring. But they’re also the only solutions. Why do you think people got so fired up about them in the 70s? It wasn’t because they enjoyed being bored. Nobody likes teenagers more than I do, but when they say they’re not interested in politics, they shouldn’t be indulged, they should be grounded.
I couldn’t agree more. I really wish these bawling whiny cynics would just grow up. Because at the end of the day, we were all “interested in politics” once, and we weren’t party affiliated, and we enjoyed the freedom of maintaining our own lofty position of independence of thought from any of the main parties, and proclaiming that “oh, they all screw it up in the end” or somesuch cop-out drivel. And then some of us grew up, and recognised that no, the system isn’t perfect, but if you want to see some changes then you can bloody well grow up and engage with it. And you can start by picking a party acceptably close to your views and signing up to march under its banner. Because that’s how it works. Sorry.
Everything else about today’s world may have been atomised into a world of meaningless personal choice, a smokescreen of democratic rights and expression of attitudes you somehow exercise through buying a t-shirt and “having it your way” at Burger King. But if you want to make real changes, if you want to see people who really represent you in positions of authority, then you can just knuckle down and get on with it, can’t you?
There is no alternative. We’d have come up with it by now if there were. The internet may provide some useful campaigning tools, and empower genuine grassroots movements like it has in the US. But don’t expect the fundamentals of the business of governance and democracy to change all that much.