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The Future of Democracy

November14

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As part of Stand Up Be Counted – an initiative run by Sky News to amplify the voices of young people, yesterday I was a reporter investigating the pros and cons of lowering the voting age to 16. I was looking into this proposal amongst many other pressing issues regarding the state of democracy in the UK. I spoke to Graham Allen MP who chairs the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. Today, this select committee launches a consultation putting a number of radical reforms to the public. The aim is to better understand public opinion on how to enhance democracy in the UK and to increase political participation. Some of these proposed changes are online voting, postal voting, lowering the voting age and mandatory voting.

“Decisions are made by those who show up” yet the voter turnout in the UK is dwindling drastically. At the last general election, 16 million people did not vote. Hearing figures like this only convinces me more of the urgent necessity to eradicate apathy and disillusionment. I ardently believe that young people do care and we are indeed passionate about positive change; we just don’t always know where or how to direct this passion. Nonetheless, living in such a digital age, we now have access to a plethora of platforms through which we can express our views and pioneer our very own campaigns. Young people are being recognised more and more as the valuable citizens that we are; the tide is turning but we need new waves of inspiration to prevent any stagnancy in our progression.

In terms of lowering the voting age to 16, I personally do not think that this is what needs to be done at this point in time. First and foremost, we need to deal with the low voter turnout of the 18-24 year old demographic (at the last general election, only 44% of this age group voted). Everybody is an individual and 16 – 17 years olds may well be different (as exemplified in the Scottish Referendum) however, our first steps towards increasing participation needs to be rooted in education. I find it slightly ludicrous that the government plays such a big role in education yet the majority of current school systems don’t do much to educate pupils on how government and politics actually works. The odd PSCHE/Citizenship lesson is simply not enough.

We need to do more to nurture the aspirations and innovative thinking of young people so that by the time they turn eighteen, they have the mind-set and the skills to make the difference they wish to. It does not make sense that we can learn all about the complex calculations within algebra but not know the formula behind our Parliamentary system. Or we can write essays on coastal erosion yet be oblivious to the erosion of human rights in the world around us. Traditional, academic subjects are indeed very important but the chasm between what we learn at school and what we need to know in the so-called “real world” is far too wide: we need to start bridging the gap. How can we be expected to effectively engage with the political system if we are not effectively educated about it?

I am grateful for projects and initiatives such as Stand Up Be Counted, UK Youth Parliament and BBC Free Speech which encourage young people to immerse themselves in debate and discussion. Excitement fills me when I ponder the prospect of a future where the potential of every young person is realised and where the word ‘change’ is not associated with empty promises or lofty fantasy but with an undeniable reality.

See video below for the footage of my report, broadcast on Sky News 14/11/14:
http://news.sky.com/video/1373046/should-16-year-olds-be-given-vote

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