All schools ,colleges and apprenticeships are required to teach British Values, including democracy and ‘understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process.’
Yet, low turn-out in elections and participation in politics as well as surveys show that less than half our young people believe it. Turn-out among young people aged 18 to 24-years fell from 60% in the early 1990s to an average of 40% over the last four general elections. In the last election 2015, young adults were almost half as likely to vote as those aged over 65. 43% of young people voted in contrast to over 78% amongst pensioners.
Youth turn-out in the UK is the lowest of 15 members of the EU. Voters aged 18 to 24 in Sweden vote at double the rate of their peers in Britain. Two-thirds of those aged 18 to 34-years feel that they know little or nothing about Parliament, our core political institution, compared to just under a half (47%) of those aged over 55.
Moreover, three-quarters of the socio-economic group DE – the unskilled working class claim little knowledge compared to just over a third of the ABs – the professional middle-classes.
Overall satisfaction with the way the House of Commons works at 30% is now six points lower than in 2004 according to the 2017 Audit of Political Engagement. Alarmingly, most people don’t think the democratic system works for them. Just 16 % of Britons trust politicians to tell the truth compared with 22% who trust estate agents, and a third who trust bankers noted by a Ispso Mori poll in 2015.
Yet faith in politics matters. If citizens don’t take part. Governments from local to national level lose touch and legitimacy. This can lead to poor decision-making, instability and weak governance. Learning for democracy matters than ever before.
You can’t take a car onto the road without learning to drive, or choose the captain of Newcastle United football without knowing anything about the game. Yet in the 21st century we ask people to drive the political process and pick the Prime Minister without learning how the democratic system functions.
Politics in a liberal democracy like the UK is hard and demanding. It requires commitment, skill, knowledge and tenacity. If citizens don’t grasp how democratic politics works or how to participate, too often they expect instant solutions to problems, lose faith or trust and may become alienated all together. Pluralism is eroded with a sense that the system only works for the few and not the many.
The most tricky problems facing a post-modern society like Britain are political, not technical or economic. Issues as diverse as child poverty, climate change, town planning and social care need political application to create solutions which balance conflicting interests and priorities. Education for democracy can increase peoples’ ability to helve resolve problems at any level and promote life for all.
The next Parliament after June 9 will be dominated by talks to leave the EU and create new trade agreements. Central government and the UK parliament won’t be able to tackle all the issues we as a nation face. Devolved assemblies, local councils like Newcastle or Gateshead and the six new ‘metro mayors’ – one in Tees Valley will have greater responsibility to sort out problems in their localities.
This makes it even more important for Labour to help renew our democracy and give the people the support, skills, knowledge and confidence to take part in civic life. To reverse low levels of trust and involvement in the democratic process we need a high level of commitment from the next elected Labour government . Labour must:
- Restore GCSE Citizenship classes in all secondary schools.
- Restore A-level Citizenship in all FE colleges and school sixth forms.
- Introduce a Diploma in Citizenship for all students and apprentices to be taken at the age of 18.