Politics is the real loser from ‘Young, Bright and on the Right’
It appears that bespectacled Joe Cooke deems that a blazer of some description is necessary for all occasions, even when returning to his family home where he informs his mother of his “vitamin regime”. Meanwhile in a Cambridge debating theatre, Chris Monk, whose mum clearly still cuts his hair, is dressed in a security jacket as he stands to address the room. The young Tory gesticulates wildly, expressing his views on UK foreign policy by means of a half-hearted quip about Belgium. The students either side of him, many of which have undoubtedly been drawn in by the presence of television cameras, try their best to stifle their laughter at the spectacle.
A BBC Three documentary depicting the travails of two young Oxbridge Tories, Young, Bright and on the Right was heavily stylized and pitched squarely at the disillusioned 99%. As such, it is by no means indicative of Oxbridge students on the whole. In spite of this, watching such farcical displays of social ineptitude raised a very important issue: the alienation of young people from contemporary politics.
The truth of the matter is that young people are not interested in “politics” per se. This isn’t to say that young people aren’t conscientious; it’s just that they are interested in “issues” as opposed to “politics”. If you take away a sixth-former’s EMA, they’ll certainly have something to say about it. What if you were to ask the same person about their views on the Coalition’s public sector cuts? I expect the reaction would be somewhat less impassioned.
Young people do not identify with party politics and struggle to relate to those who are supposed to be representing them. We see the balding nodding dogs going about their slanging match in the House of Commons and we wonder what it’s all about. The general perception of a politically active young person is that they have been “politicized” by their parents. Never would the average teenager wish to engage in anything that even resembles political debate. Those who do are not only uncool, they wear blazers and they feature in BBC documentaries.
If this is how young people perceive their peers who decide to go into politics, then is it any wonder that we as the general public feel disconnected from our MPs? This is why, perhaps surprisingly, Boris Johnson is becoming an increasingly popular political figure. Unlike his fellow politicians, the public appreciates the fact that he has a sense of humour and his general demeanour is of a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Such is his appeal that there are even murmurings that he might become the next Conservative leader.
A striking moment from the BBC documentary came as the starry-eyed Chris Monk revealed his motivations for applying for a committee position at CUSA: “half of the point of the (Cambridge University) Conservative association is that it gives you an opportunity to pretend to be a member of the upper classes”. Whilst it would be easy to make generalizations about those who associate with the right, what I take from this is that youth politics itself is intimidating. Rather than using his “personal identity” to shape his “political identity”, the impressionable Cantabrian has got things the other way round. This is one of the hazards of joining a political party at a young age and it is this factionalism that deters many young people from engaging with politics in the first place.
Representation is always a hot topic of discussion, but even with an increase in the number of female and ethnic minority MP’s, does the public actually feel represented? In my opinion, more needs to be done to get “normal” folk into politics and this starts with our young people.
At school, kids should be educated on the mechanisms of party politics and why this is necessary (or not). It is important that we understand why politicians do what they do. Young people should be encouraged to take views on specific issues and develop their own ideas on what is democratic. They should be encouraged to use their personal identity to develop their political identity and efforts should be made to remove the stigma that “politics is bad”.Tagged in: cambridge, Oxford, Oxford University Conservative Association, rightwing, Social documentary, tories, young people
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