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Do Young People Care About Politics?

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by Tom Walters

As the coalition government tortures itself with an ongoing conveyor belt of poor decisions, internal squabbling and defections to that Ukip lot, are young people beginning to lose interest in politics? Or, with so much to divide us, from immigration, welfare, taxation to that big dirty European conundrum, are we at the beginning of a new and politically aware generation?

For years, the majority of young people have been split into two camps. The ones who don't give a damn, and the ones who give a damn but look also see politics as being somewhat removed and irrelevant to their lives. A world populated by the same politicians who have no idea of the obstacles facing young people in this country. Issues such as rising youth unemployment, university fees and a world where getting on to the property market is as realistic as say, opening an american diner in North Korea. We live in a political age where young people are faced with the equivalent of going into the local Co-Op and choosing from a selection of really crap beer.

Let's fly back to May 1997, a time of hope, a time where people were looking forward to what could have been a generation of prosperity and equality, soundtracked by D-Ream's, Things Can Only Get Better. A whole generation summarised by the immortal words "things can only get better". How very British. It may as well have said, it can't get any shitter now, can it?

Tony Blair, with his triangular shaped head and freaky toothed smile, stepped forward after eleven years of Tory rule to be greeted as the saviour of modern Britain, the political equivalent of Jose Mourinho. The man to lead us all into the new era of cool Britannia with a renewed sense of belief. National optimism enveloped young people with a new sense of purpose, and in its wake, the old familiarity of hard-line right and left were replaced with a distorted view of politics and its place in society. Blair's "third way" politics enshrined a new and legitimate move away from the politics of old.

However, the initial euphoria of the Blair years soon turned into distrust, centred on what was perceived to be an illegal and unjust war in Iraq. After the million-person protest was essentially ignored, there came a rising sense of apathy amongst potential voters, a kind of 'why do we bother then?' sentiment. The passion and controversy of the years before - think Tony Benn, Thatcher (for controversial purposes), even someone like Ken Clarke - transformed itself into an endless production line of scripted answers and poll-improving drivel. This culminated in David Cameron, who in the years before being elected, rode a bike around London streets, not because he liked the feel of the fresh air on his face, but because in terms of public image, it was like shitting gold.

And now in 2013, not much has changed.

A snapshot of the three leaders of the main political parties reveals predictable similarity. Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron are bound by the same politician education model of public school and Oxbridge, a fact that does nothing to dispel the feeling that it is us and them, the plebs and the establishment.

This is not an argument against private education or hard work, but it pointing out the unrealistic perception of the world by men who lack experience of hardship, or even normality. How could they empathise with a single-parent family of five, or fully understand poor working conditions if they've never even worked outside of politics, as is often the case? I'm not suggesting that all politicians should be made to live on a council estate and have to survive solely on pickled onion crisps before they take office. But having more people from different walks of life in politics, not just those who can afford to, or who have business interests to look out for, would not be a bad thing.

So nowadays, what have young people really got to choose between? Three leaders who look similar, wear the same clothes, are obliged by collective responsibility to say really predictable things and who, if they were to be suddenly thrust into your company, would make you want to repeatedly dip your head in a large vat of sick.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition, looks increasingly out of his depth as a potential leader. The frightful thing is that he offers no positive alternative to arguably the worst government in 20 years, which is almost impressive in it's incompetence. Almost. Nick Clegg, who surely lays claim to being even more artificial than David Cameron, lacks so much depth he should be able to float.

British politics has to take much of the blame here. This constant striving for the consensus, to attract the most voters by saying watered down statements through public relations teams has weakened our political system into some kind of staged drama where personality is stifled and conviction controlled. Not only this, but our second chamber of the legislative process, the House of Lords, aren't even elected. The swines.

Young voters need to be inspired, they need inspiration from politicians who aren't afraid to go against the grain and say something controversial, inspirational or daring. In the words of post-punkers, The Stranglers, we have no heroes, we need heroes.

Politicians need to both relate and listen to young people and understand that attracting their vote is just as important as attracting that key 'middle England' demographic of Daily Mail and Express readers. That doesn't mean using patronising leaflets plastered in text-speak, but to show an understanding that to be noticed is to be different. Breaking the political mould would entice young people not only to vote, but also encourage them to follow the lead and be proud of where they are from. Despite a constant hammering of abuse from his opponents, Obama has managed to straddle the thin line between being popular and inspirational, as well as having the backbone and fighting spirit to ward off the House of Representatives. A task which should never be taken lightly.

It doesn't take walking into parliament dressed in a shell suit and wellies to be different, although I think I know who my vote would go to if they did.