The BBC’s drive to engage more young people in politics: Going a bit too far?

 

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In Need? The BBC certainly seemed very enthusiastic about helping young adults become more ‘engaged’ in politics and in highlighting young people’s political views and ideas during, and in the run-up to, the recent general election. Photo: By Mike Fleming [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There appears to be a new focus, a fixation even, at the BBC about young voters engaging in politics and attempts to get more of them out to vote.

This intensified in this year’s general election campaign. The Beeb launched ‘Generation 2015’ and have put party figures before young voters on BBC 3’sFree Speech and on Newsbeat. Previously party leaders were questioned by people of the same demographic on Bite the Ballot.

We (I say ‘we’ as I am towards the end of the 18-24 year old cohort) were warned of the perils of not turning out at the polls. As Bite the Ballot say, “If you don’t do politics it will do you.” All of this is admirable because turnout amongst young people aged 18-24 is dismally low, just 44% of us voted in 2010 according to the British Election Study. I’ve enjoyed watching some of these programmes and hope they make some impact, however this intense focus on young voters feels overdone and a bit condescending. My age group must be the most catered for in terms of media attention and coverage. We’ve had a whole series of programmes dedicated to giving ‘the youth’ a platform where they can raise issues they ‘care about.’ What about other age groups? As far as I know there hasn’t been a Pensioners’ Question Time. Free Speech hasn’t aired an episode with an exclusively middle aged audience I’m sure nobody would disagree that middle-aged and elderly citizens have opinions and legitimate concerns as well as young voters. Why, I ask, are young people being targeted as a special category?

The counter argument would be that a) young people are less interested in and knowledgeable about politics and, b) young people vote in lower numbers than their older counterpart (44% v 75%, according to the BES).  So are older voters being prioritised at the expense of youngsters? If more of us, ‘the youth,’ turned out in elections to vote, would politicians pay more attention to issues affecting young people?

Yet there are lots of young people who are of course interested in politics and current affairs regardless of the programming which was aired in the run-up to the May 2015 election. I don’t see why we need a raft of programmes specially designed to help us take an interest in the subject. Furthermore, what makes ‘engaging’ (that political buzzword again) younger voters more problematic is that politics may have less relevance to their lives because young people are less likely to have children, pay taxes and have a full time job. Furthermore, being young, you have less life experience and so may be unsure about your political preferences and opinions.

A concern I have with the BBC’s focus on my age group is that it can foster political discourse centred on ‘young people’s issues’, ie tuition fees, votes at sixteen and changes to the national curriculum. Although important to debate, these are not the only issues that young people care about. I’m also worried that this sort of ‘identity politics’ in which young people’s issues are pitted against those of other groups in society which could be seen as divisive.

Some of the proponents of this ‘get the young out to vote’ campaign, as I alluded to earlier, appear to claim for example that tuition fees were trebled by a government that generally ignored the issues affecting young adults and teenagers whilst protecting Granny and Granddad’s TV licence, bus pass, medical prescriptions etc. Sure, there are aspects which pertain mostly, or exclusively, to a particular section of the population, like the default retirement age, taxes, pensions, tuition fees, etc. However, other issues are more uniform: having a good job, a decent place to live, good local schools, good health care and other services.

It would be great if more people did participate in the democratic process, especially people in my age bracket. I just wish that the Beeb would tone down the youth mobilisation drive ahead of future ballots.

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