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Apathy - Don't Blame the Kids

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Last Friday Sadiq Khan raised the issue of lowering the voting age to 16 - saying it would help "the public's malaise towards all things political". He could be right, and it certainly makes sense to try and re-energise interest and faith in Westminster politics which is suffering from a major image crisis.

The risk, though, is that those 16-year-olds see nothing on the political table for them, don't show up at the ballot box and actually become more politically alienated than they were before.

When Russell Brand told Jeremy Paxman last year that he felt it was pointless voting, there was outcry at his irresponsibility - but if you were a teenager approaching voting age and saw a stack of policies focusing on pensions, mortgages and savings why would you feel that engaging has any value?

It's something of a vicious circle for young people. In 2005 twice the number of people over the age of 55 turned out to vote than those under the age of 24. You almost can't blame politicians for focusing their policy programme on where the voters are.

Almost can't blame them.

In his speech, Khan said something that chimed with us at Change.org: "The millions of ordinary voters who are involved in campaign groups and charities put political parties to shame, and shows the appetite for involvement is out there." The UK is blessed with some incredible campaigners and campaigning organisations, but even more excitingly the web has given a platform for people who have never considered themselves political to get involved in changing their world. It's making it easier than ever before for people to get involved in politics on their level.

What we see among our users is the very opposite of apathy, but it exists outside the narrow structures of Westminster politics. This can be, it seems, a bit confusing for politicians to get to grips with but when they do, it can be really powerful. Take No More Page 3. When Lucy-Anne Holmes started her petition calling on the Sun to drop Page 3, she could never have imagined it would be mentioned in Labour leader Ed Miliband's party conference speech the next year. But by highlighting how women are represented in society through the example of Page 3, Lucy has not only helped ignite a 'fourth wave of feminism', she's also shown political leaders how to engage people on a big issue through something simple and tangible.

Maybe it's not young people who are disengaged at all, maybe it's that politicians aren't talking to them about the issues they care about in the places where they are. So how about let's stop blaming the kids and start encouraging politicians to engage with young people on the things affecting them, talking to them through their media (will we see a Google hangout with the PM?!) rather than expecting them to interact with the increasingly out-dated definition of public engagement in the halls of Westminster. Then we might just see a turnaround in participation.

Around the Web

Voting age - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Voting age - Commons Library Standard Note - UK Parliament

Public against lowering voting age to 16 - YouGov

Bid to lower voting age to 16 | UK | News | Daily Express

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