On Thursday, Ed Miliband and David Cameron went head to, well, tail, in the non-debate that was the culmination of an embarrassing and undignified months-long battle between the Conservatives and the other parties. It was okay - entertaining in places - but hardly a revelation.
Cameron was shiny and slick, as expected, over-used the phrase 'strong economy', as expected, and showed no remorse for the rise of food banks and zero-hour contracts - as expected. Miliband was a little more impressive than most expected; his 'hell yes, I'm tough enough' was delivered just convincingly enough, and he did better than Cameron at putting across a vision for the future of Britain. Both, however, failed to get beyond the rhetoric. Cameron tried to duck the issue of food banks, praising the volunteers who run them. On low wages, he stuck to the line that the best the government can do about employment is keep the economy growing. On immigration, Miliband said that the Labour party had got it wrong in the past - making the 'admission' that UKIP has been pressuring Labour for over the past months, rather than challenging the prevailing political and media narrative. He talked about wanting a more equal Britain, but didn't address how this would square with continuing austerity at the levels of the current government - let alone engage with the merits of austerity as an economic policy.
Labour and the Conservatives have identified their key line and are refusing point-blank to deviate from it. Refusing so stubbornly that unless they are asked 'who will keep Britain on the road to recovery?' or 'which two people could realistically be Prime Minister on May 8th?' they are woefully unable to give any satisfactory answer to the electorate's questions - and no-one really expects them to. The media flurry over Cameron's announcement that he will not serve a third term - 'what has this got to do with Competence Vs Chaos?' the press wailed - illustrates how deeply we expect politicians to be stuck into their pre-election rhetoric rut.
It's this colour-by-numbers style of election campaigning that is turning young people off politics. Politicians and campaigning organisations attempt to engage my generation with simplifications and pop culture references, gimmicks to make politics more 'accessible,' as if the tit-for-tat and basic narratives of the main parties' election campaigning are too much for us. Wrong: it's not enough.
At the Green Party Spring Conference, Young Greens spoke eloquently on the ins and outs of free universal childcare, organ donation, and youth policy. Young Greens proposed detailed, costed motions on student debt among other policies - and got them passed. On Facebook discussion fora too, young members engage just as much as, and perhaps even more than, Green Party old hands in debates around the nitty-gritty of the Universal Basic Income, housing policy, and closing the gender pay gap.
And it's not just the Young Greens: young people of all parties and none contest flawed logic on twitter, use the comments section on YouTube videos of political interviews to pick up on ill-used statistics, and share detailed infographics and blog posts across social media.
The current level of political debate isn't over our heads, it's beneath us.
Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have reduced the debate on austerity to a basic narrative of 'tough decisions,' the only difference between them being how tough and how soon; the debate on welfare to 'hard-working families' versus 'scroungers', only differentiating themselves through just how destitute they want to make the unemployed. We need a real, in-depth debate about the viability of austerity as a solution to Britain's economic problems, a debate which actually tries to get to the roots of our low-wage economy, and debate which aims to find answers, not score points.
The problem isn't that young people aren't engaging with politics - it's that politics isn't successfully engaging with the debates that we want to have. Once mainstream politics mirrors the level of discussion that young people are capable of having, then young people will join in.