Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guest Blog; Why Young People Don't Join Political Parties

By Austen Sanders

Is it just me, a touchy 21 year old, or did the recent commemorations of ’68 carry an implicit charge of political apathy aimed at “young people today” - the individuals who, one assumes, grow up to be men on Clapham omnibuses? Such accusations are, I believe, misdirected. Young people are often interested in politics – but not in party-politics.

I’ve just graduated from university and over the last three years, in many a conversation with my friends, I’ve found that even those of us with the keenest interest in politics share this aversion to tribal politics. We’re attracted to the more marginal areas of political life such as think-tanks or the blogoshpere (apologies to all the skilled and influential individuals working in these areas).

Many of the most talented members of the next political generation are not particularly interested in sacrificing sweat and tears, (let alone blood), to party organisations. Either party politics will have to change, or a large measure of skill and enthusiasm will drain out of political life.

Many of these issues were touched on in a report published a fortnight ago by right of centre think-tank Reform and Ipsos MORI, entitled “A New Reality: Government and the IPOD generation”. The IPOD generation, by the way, is what comes after generation x. Members are aged 18-34 and are “insecure, pressurised, over-taxed and debt-ridden”.

Now here I must hold up my hands and admit that my interest in the report stems at least partly from the fact that I’m halfway through a summer internship at Reform, but it does make some valuable points.

I and another intern at Reform recognised ourselves in many of its descriptions. As it says, we “are not focused on ideology and therefore have the reputation of being uninterested in politics”. Without strong ideological beliefs to tie us to any particular party, neither my friend nor myself are particularly attracted to working within party politics.

Even our brief experience working in a think-tank has shown us how much genuine cross-party consensus there is on issues such as academies, but the major parties seem almost dedicated to obscuring these points of constructive agreement out of a fear of blurring their profiles and losing votes. We are enthusiastic about politics, and dislike the dead hand of the party line.

Most of my more politically aware friends from university are not choosing to work for, or even join, parties. Think-tanks provide a far more attractive destination. To someone leaving university, they appear as small and agile organisations in a dynamic sector which gives far more room for genuinely exciting and wide-ranging thought than a party research department. I don’t know if this is actually true, but I do know that that is what it looks like to young people making decisions about their political futures.

Technology has changed the way we see politics. We are very much aware that blogs are the place for the quickest and most exciting political news. We go to the blogs to pick up on election results before the mainstream media reports the official returns, and we can’t get enough of the gossip from blogs like Guido’s (Heat magazine in the corridors of power).

In a way, this shapes our understanding of our relationship with the political process. The blogger, and not the party activist, gives us our point of view. As a result, we identify with the perspective of the slight outsider, commenting on but not fully immersed in party politics.

The challenge for the major parties, and the party system as a whole, is to show the IPOD generation a political process that they are excited about and believe that they can take part in meaningfully. There will always be those who find their way into positions of power but a good number, motivated by the best of ambitions, may otherwise just drift away.

Solutions? I think the IPOD generation demands a political process which recognises the place of consensus within political life. The devolved politics of Scotland and Wales offers, perhaps, a possible vision of a way forward. The place of proportional representation in both electoral systems is no co-incidence.

Of course assumptions must always be challenged and alternatives provided, but the unbending rigidity of adversarial party-politics does not offer a political future the IPOD generation is interested in. Either the political process will change, or even the most passionate young people will turn off and disappear.

43 comments:

Man in a Shed said...

In part the problem with political parties is that they have become leader fan clubs more than movements. Many people are smart enough to sense this and steer clear, and the current generation of young people are some of the smartest.

But I'm afraid what is wrong with the young is that they want 'jobs' in politics and to change the world without contributing to it first. Go and get a real job doing something economically important, like manufacturing for ten years - then do politics.

Pay tax, raise children, own a house, try reporting a crime to the police, realise how poor your going to be when you retire because of what the government has done to destroy pensions - then you and your friends will understand politics.

Praguetory said...

Party politics aren't going away. The relatively small number of youngsters in political parties mean that they can gain influence/build networks very quickly.

Steve Horgan said...

Or the young people grow up and realise that sometimes one view is right, and one view is wrong and if you want the right one to prevail you have to get the votes to defeat the other viewpoint. There is a world of difference between the world of theoretical policy development and the practical exercise of power. Here in Basildon our youngest Councillor is 22, winning after a hard-fought battle in a traditionally Labour ward. I wonder what he makes of your words, but I can probably guess.

Irfan Ahmed said...

Well I am only 16 year old and I have joined a political Party the Liberal Democrats.

I joined the Party as I had strong beliefs in liberalism which lead me to join the party.

Many young people dont join Political Parties as they don’t find it to be relevant as when it was relevant for me to join I joined the party.

Visit my blog on www.irfanahmed.tk

Broon's Talking Bawgie said...

OT:

Iain, have you noticed post #78 on the "reasons why Broon should stay" thread over at Labourhome?

A poster called ACLB writes:-

"Gord's (and our, since no-one will do the dirty it seems) only hope is events. Frankly a major terrorist attack or something.

Otherwise it is only going to get worse..."

That's right - Labour supporters are hoping (his words) for a major terrorist attack (again his words) because they think deaths, maimings, and horror in the underground, or on a train, or on a bus will bring party political advantage to the Labour Party.

Some of us hope for health, prosperity, the happiness of our children. Labour voters hope for terrorist mayhem so we'll all vote Labour too.

They are the most disgusting tapeworm imaginable. I'd wish for such a terrorist outrage to take place in a safe Labour seat, except there are none.

Dick the Prick said...

Oh bless, that's a really depressing missive. Didn't he/she answer their own question though by mentioning think tanks? When ever PR turns up it sends a shiver doon me timbers.

Not sure it's a problem with the system - although Baroness Kennedy's work on the Power Commission had common sense ideas (apart from the dreaded PR, but rather that the IPOD generation wants instant gratification. The good ship Blighty is an oil tanker tho.

TBRRob said...

The main problem is consensus. No one stands for anything anymore.

I think that's the main reasons the young and people generally are no longer interested.

How can you feel represented by a main party when they no longer represent anything?

Johnny Norfolk said...

You should all join the party nearest to your beliefs and work to change it from within. Not doing anything just being part of fringe groups is opting out of your duty.
Apathy is the greatest enemy of democracy.

You should not opt out.

Anonymous said...

My sons never buy papers or watch the news/current affairs programmes. Are they worse off than me? I'm not really sure. We have concensus politics in this country so it makes no odds who is sat in No 10. A penny here a penny there but it's World markets that really decide what we can buy at the end of the week.Pointless wars, pointless military spending nobody gives a toss anymore they would rather discuss The X Factor.
freedom to prosper

Anonymous said...

What has a think tank ever done for me? Think tanks can analyse the ink of a postage stamp but can't mail a letter.

The scourge of today's political scene is the professional politician who has never held down a "proper" job, doesn't know what it is to be made redundant, to make people redundant, to lie awake at night worrying about meeting payroll and having to deal direct with customers, suppliers, etc every day - not just wait for an anonymous vote on polling day to slap your wrists.

I am no longer young and am also disengaged from party politics and am that mystical beast, the floating voter. I agree with "man in a shed" - go get a real job and then bring real value to politics later.

Anonymous said...

I hate this "young people are into issues not politics" drivel. If you care about something then you need to be in a position of power which will allow you to do something about it. That doesn't mean reading blogs and joining single issue organisations, it means getting involved in politics, whether local or national, and getting some control. The world doesn't need to change so that young people get a say, young people need to demand their say. Stop whining from the outside. Over-taxed and debt-ridden? Then join forces with those who want to lower taxes and and reduce student debts, win elections and change the rules. It's pretty obvious isn't it?

judith said...

Dear Austen

At the age of 21, you have to get a lot more experience of the world to start believing in a coherent ideology.

There is always going to be a fight between those for whom the State is the problem and those who believe the State is the answer.

Wouldn't it be nice if the whole world worked together for the common good? At your age, you should believe it is possible - sadly, by the time you get to mine, you will realise it isn't.

And as a Party worker, believe me, it isn't my job to tell you how to think - it's my job to slog away at delivering leaflets, telling at polling stations, canvassing, raising funds, sorting out problems, making life easier for elected politicians ......

It's a slog, sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's heartbreaking, but it is about doing something you believe in for your community and your country, not for yourself.

Blue Eyes said...

I was too apathetic to read the whole thing but the thrust is about right. I am an armchair Tory but I can't get worked up about the tribes as much as some of the older activists I have come across. Then again, I have also found that the younger activists are often the people I least get on with. Also, if the three main parties were to break up tomorrow and re-form in different shapes I would not cry over their demise.

ramalamadingdong said...

It's iPod, not IPOD. Get with it, punk, or face being accused of not being in touch.

Anonymous said...

iPod.

Anonymous said...

I think its very silly to think that our generation is any diffent to previous ones. The view will change as it always does.

As for your second point about the way politics is done and the devolved parliaments being a possible solution, you prove that your generation is not so different after all. Your generation too cannot see the wood for the trees. We need direct democracy abd localism, not proportional representation.

Jilted John said...

Go and get a real job doing something economically important, like manufacturing for ten years - then do politics.

well said, but it's not the fault of the young. Professional politicians are almost the norm now, and that demands that you start young. And - unfashionable though it may be to say it - the fact is that after manufacturing for ten years, very few people would want to go into politics; meaning as it would a massive pay cut and immediate loss of a private life.

People are very happy to moan about how venal politicians are - and some of them are very venal - but a lot less ready to take any responsibility for how that came about. It's struck me, for example, how often you hear people on blogs such as this bemoaning the 'loss of a sense of public service' that 'used to exist' but conveniently forget that in that supposedly halcyon era, a politician would be treated by both press and populace with enormous deference. Now the default view is that they are liars, hypocrites and on the make.

Only the young and idealistic would want to be politicians now. I know I wouldn't. Private Sector = far more money, far less invasion of privacy, being able to holiday where you want rather than go to Southwold / Padstow / Bognor because of b****y climate change, not having to ride a bike in London and being allowed a decent car, not having to watch everything you say, ever, being able to make jokes, not having to worry in case your son / daughter gets pissed in public or smokes a bit of weed at a party, and - best of all - not having to pretend to care every single time someone decides to hold you responsible for something you have no control over, like the economy. Personally, I don't want to have an affair, but if I did and a reporter found out they wouldn't give a tinker's cuss. If I were an MP it would make the news, if a Minister, the national news.

I don't feel sorry for the ones that misuse taxpayers' money, but by god I sometimes do for some of the others.

Alice Dale said...

I have to say, I completely agree with the post - we want to make the world a better place, and care less about who's in power and more about getting the job done. This sounds incredibly naive but some of us are worried that too often a new proposal can be thrown out with the bath water because of party politics. PMQs can be exciting but if you agree with a particular policy (from either side) it can be frustrating to see arguments being used that have no relevance used out of spite.

Oh, to be young and naive ...

Mark Clarke said...

This post is greatly undermined by the fact that Conservative Future has grown consistently for the last 10 years. It has also experienced record rates of growth in the last two years.

All this has been fairly well covered by the national media with the Financial Times doing a piece a few weeks ago and the Telegraph a big spread last year. It shouldn't have been too hard to use google to get a few facts before writing.

It's easy to make an assertion that young people aren't joining political parties. However, young people are joining the Conservative Party's youth wing.

Some facts might be good next time.

AfricanMum said...

What puts all people off political parties would be the dead hand of the whips. Too often we see threatened rebellions against daft and unpopular policies, and those rebellions crumble because whips would've told backbenchers what to do. Often during 'debates' on these unpopular moves by govts, the green benches are empty. The media don't help when they keep seeking 'divisions' within parties, causing whole parties to do the wrong thing, e.g. when Tories all voted for Maastricht or when Nu Lab gave us tuition fees.
the 1st past the post voting system also means that most of us are forced to vote tactically to keep parties from winning because we're fed up, and can't vote positively for anything. To get young people interested in politics and to increase turnout amongst the entire population of voting age, PR is desperately needed, so we can vote for movements genuinely campaigning on issues we're interested in.

Anonymous said...

My son thinks that reading Politics at university is a far smarter move that reading Physics. His reasoning is simple: he has seen the salaries of his parents - both scientists - and has decided that he wants to be the one sqeeezing the golden goose dry instead of the one being squeezed dry.

Anonymous said...

To be frank - why bother joining a political party as a young person unless you are going to be more or less guaranteed a job and a Parliamentary seat out of it.

Political life is now dominated by career politicians who have connections through parents or relatives to the party in question. Look at the younger MPs from Labour and check out their parents background. Almost all have some kind of parental or familial party connection that smoothed their way. Same thing goes for Tories. Ordinary members do not get a look in at the top posts and have no influence.

Why bother.

PompeyTeuton said...

Agree with johnny norfolk and mark clarke - if anything, the trend I've noticed (and I'm a student at the moment - Oxford, since you ask) is one towards, rather than away from, political party affiliation. There's a fair number of 'card-carrying' members of all the parties running around in the 18-22 age-group at least, and the party-aligned student associations (even the Labour Club) are thriving as well as ever.

Anonymous said...

"To get young people interested in politics and to increase turnout amongst the entire population of voting age, PR is desperately needed, so we can vote for movements genuinely campaigning on issues we're interested in."

The ignorance would be hilarious if it was't so worrying.

I'll put it in very very simple language, PR produces a LOWER turnout and GREATER apathy.

Understand?

Even if I could forgive your naivity on that front I cannot forgive you for thin king that pr would weaken the power of the whips.

Anonymous said...

The Ipod Generation?

I can't help but feel older generations are jealous of our youthful freedoms and are attemtping to destroy us with terrible monickers.

Newmania said...

Oh diddums , actually the Conservative Party was never a mass Party and the ‘Young Conservatives’ are a plague of desperate little creeps at the best of times . In the 50s they used to all go to Butlins and have wet tee shirt contests and it would be something of an improvement if they went back to that.


‘Even our brief experience working in a think-tank has shown us how much genuine cross-party consensus there is on issues such as academies,’

Oh really? When Brown got in the very first thing he did was to try and undermine the programme by placing them back under the control of Councils . Real Labour do not like academies and the Liberals just follow the crowd in any direction.
This article confirms my growing belief that the minimum voting age should be 30 and that young people should stick to trying to have sex with eachother which is what its all about anyway.


Grrr

Anonymous said...

Broon's Talking Bawgie said...

"Gord's (and our, since no-one will do the dirty it seems) only hope is events. Frankly a major terrorist attack or something.

That's right - Labour supporters are hoping (his words) for a major terrorist attack (again his words) because they think deaths, maimings, and horror in the underground, or on a train, or on a bus will bring party political advantage to the Labour Party.

WOW!!! You are worse than the Daily Mail!! One comment said the Labour party are doomed and only a major terrorist attack can save them - they did not say that they hope one happens! And you read that as ALL Labour supporters hoping for deaths, maimings, and horror!!

Or is that what you WANT to believe they believe?

Dick the Prick said...

More to the point "why do young people join political parties??"

Praguetory said...

For the pedants saying iPod, he may well have actually meant IPODs.

Realist said...

xjDoes anyone else think that 'demanding consensus' as Austen Sanders suggests is a contradiction in terms (one of the many flaws in this naive, confused, ill-considered article)?

Still it only strengthens my beliefs that there are too many think tanks and that rather than lowering the voting age perhaps it should be raised?

PR (shish what nonsense)

Anonymous said...

"This post is greatly undermined by the fact that Conservative Future has grown consistently for the last 10 years. It has also experienced record rates of growth in the last two years. "

Possibly, but the numbers are still trivial by anyone's standard. Very few people join off their own bat - it's usually because someone has dragged them along, and it starts to form part of their social circle.

I used to be in actively involved in the Party (during the dark days of IDS), but gave up after a while because all they really want you for is to push propaganda through letter boxes. Some of the people are nice, but most are a bit a bit scary.

I agree with the general thrust of the article, that younger people don't really see the dogma of party politics as being very attractive. The problem with that is we have a parliamentary democracy, and political parties are core to that.

Guthrum said...

'I joined the Party as I had strong beliefs in liberalism which lead me to join the party'.

But the only thing about the LIBDEMS that is liberal is the use of the word in their title. They are a Social Democratic Party.

Unfortunately the young have been treated to 1997 as year one, they are not taught History anymore, but about Red Indians and the Holocaust, they have scant understanding of the liberal tradition at all. The Middle and older voter is utterly disgusted with the current shambles and knows that a vote once every five years is not democracy, its a licence for a five year parliamentary.
dictatorship in which they are increasingly taxed to death to pay for yet another invasion or intiative.

Anonymous said...

Any clown can think up ideas, the guts and ability to put your ideas and beliefs into practice is what separates out the 20 something researchers from the statesmen who can change society and enact the will of the electorate.

You can research the wind forever, only we know how to make it blow our way..............

Graham said...

Not joining is a widespread social phenomenon that is not unique to political parties. Groups involved in all sorts of activities, from trainspotting to choirs, wildlife, churches, etc., etc. - all find it harder to attract new recruits than they used to.

Other contributors may be be able to offer explanations.

dougal said...

The first past the post system means you actually get far more consensus govt than you do with PR, where one-trick-pony parties hold the whiphand.

Phil Taylor said...

Spare me the IPOD generation stuff. My generation found it hard to get jobs at sixteen, eighteen and after graduating. I still thought Thatcher was right though. Thanks to ERM exit and Norman Lamont we have enjoyed 16 years of stable growth since 1992 - growth since you were 5 Austen.

At 21 you may feel that the world should bend to meet your needs but if you do you are bound to be disappointed. You may want the world to heap treasures on you for simply being you but it don't work like that.

Get out into the world and do something - anything. The process of touching the sides will probably turn you into a Tory. Life does that. Those that deny it are just not very bright - or dumbly idealistic.

Anonymous said...

Well the British National Party seem to be making progress on this front, just look at heanly and other recent elections. The conservatives need to pound the street and get noticed

Anonymous said...

Think tanks are more intellectually challenging? I've heard it all. Think tanks are pie in the sky, designing polices for utopias. Why bother?

Lots and lots of young people want to make the country better, and go and work in the public or voluntary sectors, because they can spend all day working in the public interest. The real challenging policy debates take place not within parties, understandably obsessed with popularity, but within the civil service, where every day people have to think the unthinkable. Sadly the poisonous press means that none of the real debates on what government should do can be made public.

An earlier anonymous poster bemoaned people's failure to get invovled, while Graham was insightful in saying that people just don't "join" any organisations like they used to. It isn't hard to get involved in politics. It isn't that hard to make a difference. Really, people just don't want to enough. And think tanks are for the people who have no idea how to make a difference.

canvas said...

It's called the rise of the Independent...free thinking is so now.

Tribes are so 20th century.

Johnny Norfolk said...

What ever you do dont join Labour as it is a party in its death throws.With its support going in Wales and Scotland it will soon be the end. They have shown to another generation how thay cannot run anything. Try the Lib/Dems as they are now moving to where they shoud be to the centre right. When you reach the age of 30 and have understood the realities of life you can then join the Tories, who can run things because thats what the party is.

Oscar India said...

Really good article. Well-argued and interesting.
For my part I suspect that this comes down to change - either a desire to change something (a sitting government) which is very firmly of the left or right (for example, the surge in party activism on the left under Thatcher) or a desire to install a party which seems to offer something genuinely new and exciting.
This has become less obvious as the main parties have converged on the same ground in recent years, but it's beginning to alter with Cameron's Tories (ironically not because they have a clear and exciting vision but because most young people can't recall a time when it felt okay to be pro-Tory and doing so suddenly makes them a little edgy).
Pre-recess it was interesting to note that. of an evening, allt he bright young things coming out of the House, Portcullis etc and drinking outside the Red Lion were young Tories - all seemed ten years younger than the Labour folk (and ten times happier)

Anonymous said...

Way too much utter nonsense in this guest blog to bother going through it all.

Some points:

"did the recent commemorations of ’68 carry an implicit charge of political apathy aimed at “young people today”"

Probably. Thatcher's successful campaign to destroy the British economy transformed young people from idiot idealists into money-grabbing careerists. The young became known as young fogies. Boring farts.

"I’ve found that even those of us with the keenest interest in politics share this aversion to tribal politics"

Wow. You've discovered you know nothing so you've decided to go into 'thinking' for a living and agreeing with other people who know sod all. How sweet.

"Many of the most talented members of the next political generation are not particularly interested in sacrificing sweat and tears, (let alone blood), to party organisations."

Heaven forbid. Naturally they are interested in being paid for 'thinking' of what to tell other people to do.

"a large measure of skill and enthusiasm will drain out of political life."

That would be self-proclaimed skill and enthusiasm. Ideally these young things should be sent to farms for education through actual work. Then we would have one less excuse for importing foreign cheap labour.

Can't be arsed with the rest of the drivel except to note the obvious historical point about the YCs. The only reason people used to join them was because it was easy to get laid. If any of the Henriettas did get pregnant they could afford to pop off to Switzerland for an abortion. The YCs declined when the Pill and abortion became available in the UK.

Anonymous said...

why should we? Why can we have an independent mind and have our OWN beliefs and values with government. You want to know why a third party is never going to be president? It's because of the winner-takes-all system. The winner of a state's popular vote get all of the state's electoral vote!!! Obama is winning all the votes, so why should I vote for McCain? The voting system is not fair. The Government has to make it so complicated and screwy! That's why. Young people are more exposed to the truths now a days with all the technologies in the world. We understand.
Lauren, 20 Memphis, TN