Why do you go to the pub? To meet friends? To drink? To socialize? Or do you go to the pub to discuss politics, social issues and philosophy? No? Well, if you live in Bath now you can!
Open Café Bath is an exciting new venture for young and old alike that seeks to debate and discuss the topics of the day in the warmth and comfort of your local pub. Held at The Raven fortnightly, this weeks topic saw PhD student Ben Bowman discuss his views on the rise of anti-politics and social disillusionment amongst young people in Britain.
Some of you may well be thinking, "well what's new about that topic?" and you'd be partly right to do so in so far as acknowledging that the existence of student dissatisfaction and disillusionment has always existed. However, and this is a very big however, as Ben rightly pointed out in his discussion, today we are facing a critical point in time where we have to ask ourselves, where is our political system going?
So where exactly is our political system going? For Ben, 2010 marked a pivotal point in the way politics and attitudes towards politics changed significantly. Labeling the years between 2010 and now the 'crisis years' with movements such as Occupy, the student protests and the Tottenham riot movement, Bowman suggests a downward slide towards the rise of anti - politics and overall apathy for future generations.
Why is this? Why don't students and young people vote? Why instead, are we seeing a shift towards the extreme, a shift towards the riot movements, a shift towards an almost total disengagement in traditional political mechanisms and identification?
A central reason for Bowman is the inadequate political framework that fails to investigate the grievances that young people feel. Certainly if you look at the 2010 government this is clear to see. Look at the campaign trail of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and you see slogans concentrating on the future, the 'new', the 'better'. The 2010 coalition government was premised entirely on offering something new, on lowering tuition fees, on introducing an inclusive, 'big society' yet on certain issues they haven't met their rhetoric with concrete policies.
This is critical in the rise of anti-political movements and angry riots Bowman seems to suggest. The government have failed to deliver and as a result there is a mass movement towards protest, revolt and essentially anger. Both the student riots and the Tottenham riots that took place in 2011 can be traced back to this sense of dissatisfaction. What makes it worse is that whilst the media demonizes young people in these situations of anti-politics, the government fails to consider the deep-rooted issues and then wonder why students don't vote!
Asking the audiences questions such as "Do politicians keep their promises?" and "Are elected politicians the best candidates to do the job?" the answers were almost categorically negative.
What does this say about the political system and democracy? I am not saying that democracy is null and void and that all politicians are corrupt, lazy or wrong for the job. Nor am I saying that students and young people are entirely blameless for their attitudes and actions. But was raised at Open Café Bath is interesting and needs to be taken on board. What is our government doing to reinvigorate interest in politics? What are student bodies doing? What are individual politicians doing?
Whilst in the past I have laid blame with the students and their lack of apparent interest in anything other than music, sports and fashion, the questions raised by Ben Bowman made me stop and think. And overall, I do think he is right to question the political system and political infrastructure of Britain in regards to how they deal with young people.
What is clear is that something is clearly going wrong and this needs to be sorted. What is less clear is what it is that is going wrong and how we can find a solution.