I have spent part of the day on the periphery of a protest planning meeting. About ten teenagers, three guys and seven girls, are preparing a protest later in the year about, what I believe, is building on ground declared a green zone.

11 9 07 Voter Apathy Bearman Cartoon
Photo credit: Bearman2007

This fits a pattern which I have observed, that a lot of teenagers are actually quite interested in politics. It just takes a different direction than party politics. Because, asking them, only about two said they were definitely going to vote in the European Elections later, and then in the general elections next year.

I spent part of yesterday following a debate on Twitter; yes, a lot of politicians and bureaucrats. Their main concern seemed to be how to reach young voters in the upcoming european elections. There was a lot of talk about shaping a message ‘to reach’ us.

I actually think that is the root of the problem. Most people I know aren’t stupid; they do understand English. If you’ve grappled with some of the source material I and the others have, what a politician would say is simple stuff. What is needed if for politicians to say what they mean, and then stick to what they say. Remember the last election? A lot of kids and young adults actually went and voted. And they crashed the voter registration in 2010 by adding ten per cent to the electoral rolls so that they could vote, mainly, for Nick Clegg because of his party’s student policy stances…

When you look at the statistics. The two groups most ready to volunteer for charities and action groups are the over 65s, and the under 25s. The rest, presumably, book conferences where they can talk about youth’s political apathy, and about how they can massage their message to some elusive formula that will open the ears of the sceptical teen voter.

From this Guardian article. Emphasis mine:

When Cameron next attempts to explain what he means by Big Society (ideally without an egg-throwing unhuggable hoodie in the background), he would do well to remember that, over the last year, it was the under-25s, as well as the over-65s, who scored the highest levels of volunteering in the country.

So, I can save them hundreds of pounds each year in the future. The secret formula to get us to listen to you is: say what you mean, do what you say once elected, and keep at it over a whole career. As it is now, I doubt anyone will trust a politician who comes and says “Trust me, I’m different.” Nick Clegg did that in 2010, reaped the rewards, and look at how people view his party now once the party went back on everything they’d said and promised.

The problem is not that the politicians speak a different language, and that they need to choose words and sentences that match some kind of universal teenage lingua franca. The secret ingredient to connecting with us is the same as with connecting to everyone else. Speak the truth. Mean what you say. Keep your promises. The problem does not lie with youth being apathetic. The problem lies with the politicians and bureaucrats who over decades have given voters, and not just youth, every reason to be highly sceptical of the political class.

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