It's almost a given that on any particular week on Question Time there will be at least one bright-eyed sixth former, spouting platitudes such as politicians are all the same. 'OK, so the youth are disillusioned, so what?' I hear you say. Plus ça change. There's no doubt some truth in that, but I don't think they/we (I'm 26 - I don't know if I still qualify as 'youth') used to be so deified, especially when they offer such inanity. Now you can rely on the Question Time crowd to applaud such thought and Russell Brand has over nine million Facebook followers, a bestselling book called 'Revolution' and is treated as a serious political figure.
Such young people should not automatically be lauded. They are idiots. A lot of the time at least. Certainly, those who sympathise with or support the contradictory politics offered by movements like Anonymous. They complain that governments are "unconstitutional", "oppressing" us by "infringing our civil liberties", meaning "LIBERTY NO LONGER EXISTS". Yet they also "PROTEST AGAINST AUSTERITY". So they simultaneously despise the state but are furious that it is being taken away from them. That makes them either masochists or morons. Personally, they only serve to remind that it's far easier to oppose something than to have made it in the first place.
Am I alone, at least among non-Daily Mail readers, in thinking the vapidness of many young people is about as much to blame as deficiencies in the political system for the fact just 24% of under-25s declare an interest in politics (according to a Hansard report). I don't actually think this is necessarily a bad thing; people can live a perfectly moral and decent life just doing well by friends and family and watching the X-Factor or playing football. In fact, doing such arguably indicates a measure of contentment with one's life and leisure time which allows this, and which is notably absent in less democratic countries riven by some hellish mix of corruption, civil war, crumbling infrastructure and disease. Frankly, the world, in many respects, could do with giving less of a shit - if this was the case there wouldn't be nearly as much homophobia, slut-shaming or body hang-ups, for instance.
Granted, it's arguable how much difference there is between the two/three main parties, the Conservatives, Labour and, to a lesser extent, the Lib Dems (I think there are fairly significant differences). But even if you believe there is little between them, these are far from the only viable parties to support, especially at the moment as traditional voting patterns collapse and fringe, or once-fringe, parties come to the fore. To the left of these parties, you have the Greens; who believe in just giving people money (the citizens' income); a zero growth, sustainable economy; decriminalising weed and legalising membership of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. (They actually share many views with Russell Brand, so I find it bizarre why he and like-minded people don't vote for them.) And to what I will call the 'right' - with some caution because the definition, and indeed the party, is far from precise - is UKIP, a party whose only defining characteristics would seem to scepticism of immigration, hatred of the EU and angry righteousness.
Some of these ideas might make sense (though I'm sceptical), but truly there are some really quite radical ideas and characters on both sides, and neither have had significant power as yet, undermining the cliché that they're all the same. And there's now a good chance that one such party could have a significant effect one way or another in the election - forming a coalition government or gaining more seats - or, as Armando Iannucci says, further on in the linked Question Time, this is the most open election in about 30 years. The Green Party have embraced crowdfunding to help them stand in 75% of constituencies (a 50% increase from the last election) and fringe parties like the National Health Action Party are standing in some places. Indeed, the changing dynamics are already having an effect as parties seek to stop voters, and MPs, moving elsewhere, notably to UKIP.
The times we live are painted by many - Russell Brand types on one side, Daily Telegraph readers (comments section) on the other and David Icke types on 17 different sides simultaneously - as some kind of Orwellian hell-hole people are condemned to live in, with an array of "manipulative" bete noires arraigned against them; The BBC, 'eco warriors', the 'human rights judicial dictatorship' and bankers/the "elite"/"the 1%", to name but a few. But these are not the times we live in. Never has there been more information channels and never have they been easier to access (arguably too easy, as reputable newspapers across the world struggle to survive in a digital era). And, unsurprisingly, never have they been more accessed. Indeed, not just accessed - never have they been made more, by any old Tom, Dick or Harry, as testified by the fact we now have words which basically didn't exist a decade or two ago (or at least not in the same context); tweeting, googling, Facebooking, Instagramming, blogging, vlogging and so forth. (If those verbs which I capitalised should be, they might not be ten years from now.)
Not only is there wide array of political parties and organisations, it's in many ways a golden era to access and support them. So I don't buy people espousing this one-sided rose-tinted idea of the dispossessed youth, wronged by the system and valiantly speaking truth to power with coruscating political analysis. Far more, I'm reminded of Winston Churchill's line: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."