As students around the country took to the streets to protest against climate change, one of the biggest issues we face globally, politicians and commentators took to Twitter. Not to commend young people for getting involved in politics, but to disparage, mock and belittle their efforts.
Andrea Leadsom labelled them truants, apparently not thinking climate change an important enough issue to miss school. Theresa May did all but tell the kids to go back to their classrooms, while Christopher Hope’s tweet (which resembled performance art) wondered how they could care about climate change if these kids scuffed lawns?
How strange is it that our politics have become so toxic, so focused on a sole issue, that children have to bring climate change to the forefront of political debate? And how terrible is it that the adults that we elect are now telling those students that they should be ashamed of doing the MP’s jobs? Such is the mindset of the modern day conservative.
It seems that Theresa May has already forgotten that the millenial vote lost her a majority in the 2017 election, according to the Independent. Then, she told the UK public she would do more for the young. As we now know, it was yet another one of the PM’s empty promises.
The Tories have never been the political home of students. Mainly because they always seem so busy bribing older generations with tax cuts and free BBC licences (paid for by the BBC, no less). The minimum they could do is at least feign interest in one of the main topics that young people care about: saving the planet.
MPs and political commentators should remember that these students are the next generation of voters. By the time the next elections come around, some of them will cast their ballots for the first time. As many young individuals feel Brexit is robbing them of a future, a concession on climate change would be a show of good faith.
Instead, older parliamentarians including the Prime Minister choose to snipe at future voters because of their age. Wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who said “if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left”?
If we want young people to vote, we should empower them to use their voices and constitutional rights. Instead, they’re being betrayed by the Government on all fronts (from eye-watering property prices all the way through to the general inaction on climate change) until they’re so exhausted, so politically stunted that they don’t bother showing up to the polling booth. And when they don’t, political leaders again tell them it’s because they are disinterested, instead of looking at what they could do to motivate younger generations to vote.
Our government has made it clear that they don’t care for young voters. Yet they act surprised if they don’t do well with younger generations and if students flock to Corbyn. Is political illiteracy at fault here? One thing is for sure: we need government to become more representative of modern Britain and the issues the people care about. For a government that keeps going on about the “will of the people”, it’s a cruel irony that they don’t listen. The will of the people comes with terms and conditions, though.
The vote for Brexit and protest against climate change shows we should consider lowering the voting age. Not only because the young have more information available than ever before, but because it’s their future that we are currently attacking. If they’re educated enough to take to the streets and organise themselves around the country to protest, maybe we should stop undermining and underestimating their political influence?
Parties need to do better to attract young voters with actual policies and candidates that appeal to that group of voters. Young people aren’t disinterested, they just need a reason to vote for individuals that empower them and fight for the policies they care about. Right now, parties don’t even engage with the young outside of patronising lectures about the importance of voting. Young people are keenly aware of their civic responsibilities but what exactly do we give them to vote for?
I have a feeling, though, that it probably seems easier for politicians to dismiss the ideas of students, than it is for them to do something about climate change. The imagination required for the latter remains beyond the modern conservative.