Young people are apathetic towards politics; they don’t care how this country is run and they’re not going to turn up to the polling stations on May 7th and vote.
But is this an accurate stereotype, representative of young people in Milton Keynes? And is it really ‘apathy’ – or perhaps something else?
Seven young people in Milton Keynes were invited to take part in an interview regarding the General Election and the outcome is not quite what the stereotypes would have you believe.
For all seven young people, the 2015 General Election will be the first national election they are eligible to vote in, and 6 out of 7 of them are planning to vote. However, although they believe it is important to make their voices heard, they also concede that politics and politicians aren’t exactly known for being accessible or trustworthy.
For example, Reuben Lyimo will be voting, but agrees that young people in general are not overly engaged with politics and the issues at hand: “They think all politicians are the same; they make hypocritical decisions or do not do what they promised.”
So, what are the first three words that come into their heads when they think of a politician?
White, middle-class, male – Elizabeth Mcleod
Leader, caring, listener – Reuben Lyimo
Indecisive, deceitful, biased – Shannon Connelly
Patronising, intelligent, tactical – Rubiya Syeed
Inexperienced, greedy, rich – Charlie Davies
Policies, promises, scandals – Beena Patel
Loud, stubborn, assertive – Bethany Morley
As you can see, the answers were varied and not always complimentary.
So how could politicians appeal to young people and win their vote? Making the effort to visit them at their colleges and sixth forms seemed to be a popular method amongst the majority of those we spoke to.
Rubiya Syeed says: “My school have invited a local member of the five major parties to come in and speak to Year 13 for an hour each week to talk about themselves, a few of their policies and to end with a Q&A session. As well as this, the Youth Parliament representatives in my year group organised a local “Question Time” led by John Bercow as the presenter, and I found this very informing.”
She also highlights how their behaviour towards their opponents is also an important factor in encouraging young people to vote for them: “The politicians that I have enjoyed speaking to and made me want to vote for them acted down to earth and polite, and did not constantly say rude things about the other political parties.”
When asked what the issues they care about the most are, our young people mentioned topics across the whole political spectrum; employment, immigration, welfare, the NHS, membership of the EU, army cuts, economic growth, the environment and international cooperation.
Charlie Davies would also like to see politicians focusing on the national curriculum: “Schools should teach students how to prepare for life as an adult. For example, they should teach students how to be good with money, how to grow food and repair clothes/furniture and how to write CVs.”
So why should young people take time out of their day on May 7th to vote?
Elizabeth Mcleod says: “I think it is important to vote in order to make sure that the views of all individuals are taken into account. The decisions made in Parliament will affect my life and so I think it is important that I have a say in what those decisions will be. I also know I’m privileged to have the ability to vote when so many people elsewhere don’t, and I don’t want to ever take that for granted.”
What could encourage more young people to get engaged with politics?
Bethany Morley would like to see politics discussed during school time: “Debates in classes in schools and colleges about everyday matters such as healthcare, I believe will help to engage students about politics as it gives them an opportunity to announce their opinions in a way which is not too pressured. I also think teachers in a non-biased way explaining the parties’ policies could make it easier for students as they can be wordy and that can especially make it difficult for those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.”
Beena Patel says: “I feel young people need to understand how much these issues will affect them in the future in order to understand politicians’ ideas and who to vote for. More talk on social media and more compulsory education on this in the curriculum.”
So it seems these young people are engaged with national politics, but do they know who their local councillors are in Milton Keynes and do they think they are served well by them?
“I’m not even entirely sure who the local councillors are … so I honestly could not say whether or not they are doing a good job helping the young population!” says Elizabeth Mcleod. Charlie Davies holds a similar opinion: “I don’t know who they are or what they have done for us, so I can’t really comment, but I guess your answer is there.”
Reuben Lyimo is more positive about the councillors in Milton Keynes, as is Shannon Connelly who says: “I believe they do, in particular through the Youth Cabinet and MySayMK. However, she did add: “These could be promoted better to encourage more people to take part in these schemes.”
So there you have it; a very brief but enlightening insight into the views of young people in Milton Keynes on voting and politics. What we learnt through conducting these interviews is that our young people are not apathetic about the way this country is run; they do want to make their voices heard and the majority of them will be turning up to the polling stations on May 7th to vote for who they think will best serve their interests in Milton Keynes.
The clearest message from these interviews is that we shouldn’t confuse ‘apathy’ with ‘boredom’. Young people, as with some adults across the country, appear bored with politics. They don’t want to see mud-slinging; politicians attacking each other or policies and promises that cannot be delivered.
Young people are engaged with the issues that affect this country and they want to vote for politicians who care about their interests and want to do good for the country and the city of Milton Keynes.
The full interviews can be viewed here: