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Why I'm Pleased The Internet Is Radicalising People

20/06/2017 11:33 BST | Updated 20/06/2017 11:34 BST

We all know the Conservative Party is in crisis. Mistrusted by the public, unable to appreciate the everyday problems of people far removed from traditional Tory privilege, and increasingly distant from the millions of younger voters who sided with Labour and Jeremy Corbyn.

What concerns me, though, as someone who has spent his life within the media industry, is that many of those commentating on culture, society, the economy and politics are equally out of touch. The aloof political class I get - the people supposedly with fingers on pulses, well that's unforgivable. For me, that is the real crisis.

Today, I read something so arrogant, crass and naïve that I've decided to base this entire piece upon it. Writing in her Daily Mail column, Sarah Vine - who is married to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove and delights in fraternising with opinion makers and aristocrats - tried to get to the heart of what's driving the disaffected youth.

She wrote: 'This young generation is no more radical than the last; it's just that having grown up with the internet, they are wholly influenced by it...All too often this influence is deeply sinister...radicalisation, bla bla bla...If the government wants to have any chance of wooing the new voters, it needs to understand this and fight this cancer intelligently.'

Newly enfranchised voters, you see, are too easily influenced by baddies (porn merchants, commies and Isis) and don't have the wherewithal to know when they are being manipulated. Newspapers on the other hand - and perhaps Tory MPs - well they're the antidote to this cancer. Because they tell the truth.

Vine is right in one sense. People are being damagingly radicalised by the internet. An unbelievably tiny amount of people. And many others are being fooled into thinking that outrageous lies are based on fact. Like, erm, newspaper stories.

But the vast majority have been radicalised in a way that Vine and her ilk simply don't yet understand. They are more motivated because of the myriad connections they make. They are more impassioned because of the niche causes their groups of friends become instantly aware of. They are more driven by a need to find purpose in what they do and where they work beyond financial rewards. They see themselves as part of a borderless movement with power and influence away from the gated communities in which older, privileged generations were raised. The internet has radicalised them - it has given them the ability to find meaning far removed from that which the political-media-consumerist-financial nexus can provide.

When Sarah Vine and I were students, the easiest way to be radicalised was to buy a dull copy of the Socialist Worker from some bearded Trot outside the Union, or hop into bed with a pretty young thing with membership access to some sort of club (in the interests of research I tried both).

Today, the awesome speed at which we can be connected to people, places and interests means the potential to be 'radicalised' is greater than ever. Except radicalised is the wrong word, carrying with it sinister undertones. It is a word that does not accurately reflect what our digital age is doing to Generations X, Y and Z. It is not radicalising but transforming them. Inspiring, motivating and liberating them. It is why clicktivism has becomes such a powerful social movement.

It is allowing them to bypass the once-impregnable citadels of politics and the media and find the information and connections that allow them to make their own minds up. And it is encouraging them to play a part in something -activism focused on causes rather than political hues. This is why more than 70 per cent of under-30s voted. Not because they were radicalised, Sarah, but because they were enthused.

The figures must be pretty scary for her husband.

According to a YouGov poll, an average of 64 per cent of under-30s voted Labour, 21 per cent for Conservative; 49 per cent of 30-49 year olds voted Labour with 34 per cent for the Conservatives; and the only age group in which a majority voted Conservative were those aged over 60. Many of whom, presumably, have yet to be radicalised by Sarah's web.

That's not to say the internet is blameless. A few people are so deluded that they follow the warped rantings of lunatics whose voices can be magnified beyond the imaginings of ranting lunatics from older generations. But most benefit in a way that Sarah simply doesn't understand - they are far more radical than we ever were. And thank heavens for that. We could do with a bit of a shake-up.

Instead of complaining about the insidious nature of digitised life, the media needs to learn how better to utilise it and connect with youth. For instance, as a newspaper addict I consume most national publications every day and can count on one hand the number of serious commentators under the age of 40. They are nearly all middle-aged, middle-class and white - working for mainly male editors. These publications are even less representative than the Tory party, and that's saying something.

If anyone needs radicalising it's them.