In May 2017, VotesforSchools asked students “Do we need a new political party?”, following a snap general election that saw voter fatigue soar. This same question could easily have been asked anytime in the last few weeks as well. It is not an overstatement to say that British politics is at its most turbulent in years, with Parliament in disarray and party members shifting from the left and right to a vague, undefined centre. Conversations free of references to political tumult are rare, especially in the media. There is no doubt that this will have affected young people’s current perception of the UK, leading to potential confusion and political apathy or possibly a heightened sense of the importance of speaking up and taking action. Could The Independent Group (TIG) present a catch-all solution to contemporary issues, or does it merely mask deeper problems with the UK’s political system? Could it even set a precedent for the future that young people can get on board with?
The possibilities are many, and it would seem for Primary pupils it could revive the public’s faith in Parliament, while Secondary students seem marginally more sceptical.
Since the question was put to students almost two years ago, there have been many other pressing political issues at hand that have been debated and helped develop their views on the current state of politics. The most obvious of these is, of course, Brexit. When feeding back on our topic about whether the UK should stay in the single market, students did not just assess their views on this issue, but their political awareness in general, with one arguing that ‘we need to talk about more politics to help us get ready for the real world’, and many simply expressing their bewilderment about the whole situation. These views apply across the spectrum of young people’s knowledge of and engagement with politics, and the prospect of a new political party is likely to be no exception. With this in mind, what could the repercussions of a new party be in terms of young people’s political engagement?
Thinking pessimistically first, a new party could cause significant delays in young people taking an interest in politics or feeling confident in their understanding. Supposedly, TIG was born out of ‘a wish to stop Brexit’, for which it has been both praised and criticised. Presumably, this means it could well have a limited shelf-life and therefore won’t be able to make good on any promises made beyond final negotiations with the EU. Not only this, but there are other key problems that young people feel very strongly about and are deeply affected by, such as the current knife crime epidemic, debates surrounding citizenship and ongoing NHS woes. If it is to be believed that TIG is an ideological one-trick pony, then they may well not have much to offer young people who are likely to be thinking about the long-term effects of the leadership and the actions that need to be taken on a range of issues.
However, this particularly pessimistic view is couched in a select few of the media’s assessments of The Independent Group and the prospect of a new party. When setting out their initial approach, which did not specifically pinpoint dodging a no-deal Brexit as the end goal, TIG themselves asserted they would ‘aim to recognise the value of healthy debate, show tolerance towards different opinions and seek to reach across outdated divides and build consensus to tackle Britain’s problems’. With a young population so crying out to have their voices heard, this is quite the mission statement. They also laid out a list of 11 ‘values’, many of which chime with contemporary concerns amongst students. For example, following the mass school walkouts in protest over climate change in February and with a second imminent, TIG highlight how they ‘have a responsibility to future generations to protect our environment’.
Somewhere in the middle of these two views is the opportunity that TIG could also represent for young people to change not only laws, rulings and policies, but the political system itself. In the press’ assessment of the group and what it could mean for UK politics, the first-past-the-post system was a consistent sticking point. Some praised it because it will likely prevent the breakaway group from making any real impact in the next general election, while others bemoaned it for the same reason; some went as far as saying it ‘strangles new, insurgent parties at birth’. If TIG were to gain enough traction with young people, but still be woefully underrepresented, this could inadvertently educate new voters about the shortcomings of the UK’s political system in terms of representation. Similarly, if the party were to defy the odds despite first-past-the-post, this could instill a new hope for change in young people (provided TIG is who they wished to see in power, of course!).
Hopefully, the future of UK politics are not just debating in classrooms up and down the country, but are already out and taking a stand. After all, in a recent debate about aspirations, 82.5% of Primary pupils decided that you could achieve anything you want to if you put your mind to it, and this has certainly been reflected in recent student action – it’s got the world sat up and listening. It looks to us like there is a bright future ahead, but how it will manifest is yet to be seen.
This post has only scratched the surface in terms of the precedent a new party could set for UK politics and the population. For more in-depth, up-to-the-minute analysis of all things political, why not try one of the following:
- Read: subscribe to The Economist* or The Week
- Listen: Talking Politics with Prof David Runciman or Ways to Change the World with Krishna Guru-Murthy (specifically the episode with Chuka Umunna MP on leaving Labour, a new centrist party and a second referendum)
- Watch: 10 Downing Street’s YouTube channel or BBC Panorama
*The Economist also do a series of daily and weekly podcasts.
Georgie is the Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools, though she also helps out with content. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition – or not, as the case may be. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments about this post or future ones.
Cover Image Credit: BBC News