The government has rightly been criticised for the lacklustre nature of their campaign to promote the need for their ‘flagship’ policy of Police Crime Commissioners.
Likewise the media has been criticised – including by me – for making apathy and ignorance the story all the way through the campaign, rather than seeing their role as being one of educating the public about the nature of the choices in front of them. Instead of taking on apathy and ignorance they have done their best to fuel them.
Meanwhile whenever a Saturday night reality TV show requires the public to ‘vote’, large parts of the media report this as though it really matters, and large sections of the public treat it like it does.
And so we hear people saying how funny it is that more people vote in Big Brother, X Factor and the like than bother to turn out in the general election.
It is not easy either for politicians or the media to criticise the public, as they are the lifeblood for both. But as someone who is neither politician nor journalist, but is in both politics and the media, I feel no such hesitation.
Change only comes if people make it come, and for all the faults of the political process, a lot of the progress made in the world is down to politics. If people do not like the world they live in, or the politicians who try to run their affairs, it is simply nonsense to say there is nothing they can do about it. Likewise, whenever I hear anyone say either that ‘nothing ever changes’ – an absurd statement in a world utterly defined by the pace of change – or that politicians ‘are all the same’, when you merely have to look at them and listen to them to see what garbage that is – I want to scream.
Yesterday I visited Lomeshawe Junior School in Nelson, Lancashire. I met the Pupil Management Team, children aged 7 to 11 who acted as representatives of their classes in discussions with teachers about the curriculum. I tried to explain to them that what they were doing was the basis of politics, the belief that dispute and argument is best settled by debate not fighting.
But when it comes to political education in schools, there remains the fear that it can be tantamount to propaganda. Yet we think nothing of promoting actively the benefits of sport, learning maths, English, history and science. We should take the same approach to politics, and teach from an early age it’s centrality to people’s lives and its role in the advance of humanity.
Better education about politics might also have the effect of getting a broader gene pool entering the political debate in adulthood. Throw in lowering the voting age to 16, compulsory voting for all national and local elections, a return to media reporting which focuses on policy not personality, and does a better job separating news and comment, and politicians who do a better job promoting their own trade, and we might have a chance challenging apathy in time for the next generation. Without it, we are taking a big step backwards.