Alastair Campbell: ‘Young People Are Entitled To Be Disillusioned – Here’s How We Can Change That’

'I am currently engaged in trying to challenge the same indifference to politics and elections, partly by saying it matters, partly by saying it is fun'

by Alastair Campbell |
Updated on

GK Barry is, my daughter tells me, ‘epic.’ The fact I had never heard of her, until being asked to be a guest on her show, and discovered she has millions of social media followers who also seem to think the 24-year old influencer is ‘epic,’ underlines the nature of the different cultural and media ecosystems in which different generations exist.

Yet where GK and I have something in common, despite a 43-year age gap, is that we are both worried about the extent of cynicism and apathy among young people about politics. The reason she asked me on her show is that she launched something called ‘The Turnout,’ inspired by the fact that so many of her friends said they ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to vote. I am currently engaged in trying to challenge the same indifference to politics and elections, partly by saying it matters, partly by saying it is fun, but also by explaining there is a reason why politicians tend to direct message and policy to older people at election time, and that is because they vote.

Young people are entitled to be disillusioned. Theirs is the first generation unable to say with confidence they will be better off than the generation which went before. The planet faces an existential threat and yet politics doesn’t seem to have the urgency to address it. Inequality is rampant. The housing ladder feels like it has been pulled away. The education system requires those who go to university to start adult life mired in debt.

Also, what have been the defining features, and who have been the defining people, of their experience of politics? A Brexit which overwhelmingly they didn’t want,and the damage of which they are living with. Boris Johnson and Partygate, when it became clear the sacrifices being made by the young were not matched by those who were ordering them to stay at home. Liz Truss smashing the economy. Trump. Putin. War in Ukraine. Israel-Gaza. The world is not an easy place right now.

But there have always been problems facing every generation in every country in the world. The question is whether you allow them to overwhelm you; or you ignore them; or you try to get engaged in making change. The last of these has to be the best way.

I was pleased the Labour Party announced they would lower the voting age to 16. But I would go further. I would like us to have compulsory voting in local and national elections. And I would like to see proper political education in schools. Unless you do Politics A-level, the chances are that you won’t learn anything about politics in school. So where does political education come from? Parents? Biased newspapers? Or the misinformation and disinformation that have done so much to undermine the potential democratising benefits of social media?

I go into schools all the time. When you spend time explaining to young people how it all works, warts and all, I find that in the main they are not only interested, but they have really good ideas about how it could all be changed. Change comes to those who fight for it. How you fight is the question.

The first thing is to be informed. Don’t turn away from what is happening in the world. Follow events. Think about them. Take them seriously. Decide what you really care about, and then explore how to get involved in making change. Politics isn’t just about politicians. It is about campaigners, protest, argument, writing, speaking, volunteering.

And be informed about the system. You can’t really change it unless you know what it is and how it works. It was my visits to schools and colleges that inspired me to write my latest books, one for primary schools, one for teenagers and young adults, just trying to explain why it matters, how it works, how to get involved.

Most of the readers won’t be old enough to vote. But you are never too young to have a view or to get involved. Added to which I think the teenagers’ book might find an adult audience too. When I first announced it, I got a message from a Labour MP: ‘I see you’re writing a book explaining how politics and Parliament all works. Send me a copy will you? I’ve been here for years and I still haven’t got a f----ing clue what goes on in here!’

Alastair Campbell Talks Politics and Little Experts Politics Matters by Alastair Campbell are published by Red Shed, RRP £9.99.

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