It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government... except all the others that have been tried - Winston Churchill.
The future is a funny old thing. That word has been thrown around so often during the tiresome back and forth of this campaign that it's lost all meaning, blending into the dull humming noise that the election has become.
Like most elections of the past 30 years, the 'do young people care?' debate has been wheeled out by newsmakers like that friend you only ever invite to parties when you're worried about numbers. It's fine if they bring their own drink and don't talk to anybody.
I have been campaigning for votes for 16/17 year olds since I was 15 and here we are, ten years on, having the same old conversation with minimal progress. This question exemplifies the problem - the excuse for not broadening the net of democracy, peddled by the political class, is that young people aren't interested and are likely to follow the lead of their parents. Firstly, we are all sheep. We're all following some sort of influence; you won't have to dig too deep to find the guiding hand of your parents, regardless of age. And most importantly, 35% of the adult population failed to use their vote in the general election of 2010. By the same argument, do we deny those the right to vote too?
Not only is it hypocritical, it's point blank wrong. Young people care passionately - that I can tell you. The day before the first leaders Q&A, the radio station I work for travelled to Liverpool to host a debate with some first time voters. At the start of the evening, I spoke with a 19-year-old audience member called Natalie. Natalie had no intention of voting on May 7th and had little interest in politics. Then the debate started. The point was made that the support of young people wasn't worth chasing for politicians because we don't go out to the ballot box and that we're falling somewhere between being actively victimised and simply ignored. The point was made that students have had their Education Maintenance Allowance ripped away from them in cuts that are paying for an economic crash caused by rich bankers. The point was made that we're expected to face life straddled with thousands of pounds of debt, simply to better ourselves with an education. The point was made that once we do leave education, and take our first tentative steps into the world, our job prospects are so bleak that it's almost not worth bothering. And guess who stood up to make that point? Natalie did. Remarkably, Natalie does care. She cares so deeply that once we started to have a proper conversation about proper issues, the ordinarily shy student burst into life. She surprised herself. I've spoken to her since and can confirm that she has registered to vote. Oh... and while we're at it, how about speaking to us like human beings and not simply an age group?
This campaign has been so focused on the class bully David and his mates attacking Ed, the kid that eats alone at lunch but is no doubt drafting an alternative Hadron Collider on his napkin, that even those who are passionately interested are losing the will to live. Then there's Nigel, sat in the corner of the playground throwing stones and killing ants. We're taught to treat others as we wish to be treated and yet we see our leaders doing the opposite. And it isn't just the politicians; the front pages of our newspapers, and, more importantly, Twitter feeds, are filled with hate and spin with headlines that serve the interests of their rich owners. Daily Mail, I'm looking at you. Days after the Labour Party announced a policy that would mean the Daily Mail owner Jonathan Harmsworth would have to pay a bit more tax on his billion pound fortune, they ran a front page story that exposed Ed Miliband for having met his wife, Justine, at a dinner party while he was still involved with a previous girlfriend. This, they suggest, means we can't trust him to run our country. I suppose it also means he has genitals - and probably uses them sometimes! Perish the thought! With that, they had the audacity to claim that this was "a rare unvarnished look at Ed Miliband." I kid you not. What the hell are we supposed to believe when this is the news?
We are breading a generation not only disinterested in politics, but also harboring a deep-rooted hatred for the way it behaves. To question whether young people are interested in politics is to miss the point entirely. It deflects from the real problem - a troubling reluctance to take hold of our democracy and how that plays into the hands of the political elite. They're snatching lunch money from the young to give it to the old, because we're less likely to tell teacher at the ballot box. And guess what? They're right. 44% of 18-24 year olds voted in 2010, compared to a 65% overall turnout.
Many complain that politicians don't listen to the concerns of young people - the reality is that young people aren't shouting loud enough. We must stand up and be heard. Its reaching crisis point and we need them to know that they cannot treat us this way. Taking on an establishment feels like a mammoth task but the first step is simple. Voting. The most powerful wake up call to a politics that victimises the young is to vote it out. I know Russell Brand makes a convincing point when he says we should reject democracy altogether, but he's wrong. Democracy is what we make it. YouTube videos are great, but we need to play them at their own game.
They'll throw obstacles in our way. Next time a carefully orchestrated sound bite from a greying politician makes you want to rip your own ears off - just remember that this is exactly how they want you to feel. By shutting us out, they win.
We need to take a lead in rejecting the politics of popular. We must side step those who will feed us stories based on their own interests. It's time for us to embrace a politics of substance, putting the issues that matter to us at the heart of this debate. In a debate that we're constantly told is all about the future, let's not forget to whom that future belongs.