Breaking stereotypes and discussing the ‘Youth’ vote

With two day’s left until the election polls open, this morning I once again dove into a radio broadcasting and rejoined BBC Leicester’s Johnathan Lampon and BBC Local Apprentice Khadija Osman for Behind the News’ panel discussion.

Today we looked at ‘The Youth Vote’ and why young people may or may not be turned off from politics.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pn8h1 (10:50mins – 36:25mins)voters

Since the 1970’s, the 18-24 age demographic have had the lowest voter turnout of any age group, but this year they could very well be the game-changers holding the power to influence who ends up in No. 10.

Young people need to feel engaged by the political process so its no surprise that jargon is a complete turn off. I believe young people are more discerning than we’re given credit for and although many of us are interested in politics, we are also very cynical of politicians. Who wants to be preached at when half of what is said goes over your head anyway?

When MP’s target and start listening and moreover including young people in the political process, finding out what issues we feel are important (because despite some snarky feeling that all we care about is student fees, that’s most definitely not the case) and hearing our views on public policy.

The issue that got under my skin in particular was the suggestion by one commenter that young people under the age of 24 are “idiotic beyond belief and will most likely be voting for disaster/Labour #Morons”… Gee… thanks.

Despite the (completely false) idea that young people somehow automatically vote Labour, this stereotype of the ignorant, politically-uneducated-therefore-clearly-left-wing, hippy ‘yoof of today’ is totally unfair and (as a young person myself) pretty darn offensive if I’m honest.

The main challenge for politicians today in engaging young people is pretty much the same challenge they face to the rest of the electorate (but perhaps to a stronger degree). Average Joe Bloggs (both senior and junior) no longer trust politicians to be honest in either their policies or their values, and it is THIS failure to engage in a trustworthy and believable way that political parties need to work on.

Lobbying for change

Should a political party tell the public what it believes, or should it ask the public what it wants? So goes a beloved dilemma of political theorists and party policy-makers over the years – from long since before the internet came to prominence.

Of course, there is no easy answer to it; particularly when individually each MP (irrespective of party affiliation) may be subject to external influence by PRs or the corporations for whom they are working.

The UKPAC definition of lobbying claims that it means working:

in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.

In the UK, lobbying plays a significant role in the way that policies and decisions are made at local, regional and national levels, as lobbyists attempt to influence the formulation of legislation in ways that benefit their clients. Most lobbying activity is undertaken by professional public affairs agencies who represent multiple clients and primarily focus on lobbying within the corporate, charity and trade sectors.

Although I believe that working to influence political decisions regarding policy and legislation is a legitimate and moreover a necessary part of the democratic process, I do think that there needs to be a wider and more fair level of engagement in the process, with more transparency as to the dealings between Whitehall and lobbyists.

In 2010, David Cameron said that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” and subsequently ‘promised’ to “sort it out”. However last year, the issues within lobbying reached a level where (according to a TI poll) 90% of UK respondents believed that “our government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest”

A Lobbying Act was implemented in January 2014 in an attempt to rectify the poor reputation of lobbyists that had been steadily growing over the past decade (some of which are shown below).

07120215_Liftingthelid_TI_web

On February 10th however, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations revealed its manifesto for the upcoming year which raised seven key areas that the public relations profession wants to see addressed (both in the industry and beyond), namely:

  • Lobbying
  • The future of corporate governance,
  • Independent practitioners and future skills needs,
  • The gender pay gap,
  • Data protection,
  • Internet governance and broadband.

Lobbying

For the last few years, the CIPR has been calling on government to actively support higher levels of accountability and standards within lobbying. Althoguh this did pay off last year in the Lobbying Act, but understandably (as shown in the above infographic), there is still a fair way to go.

CIPR president, Sarah Pinch, says, “The next UK Government should seek to restart the dialogue with stakeholders on the role of lobbying in our democracy, and actively support the development of a highly skilled, qualified and ethically competent group of public affairs professionals that serve the needs of a modern complex democracy. Ensuring that the law that introduced a statutory register of consultant lobbyists genuinely provides the public with more information about how policies and laws are shaped should be considered a priority. Failure to do so will result in lobbying genuinely being the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is another prominent issue that is regularly discussed in the public relations industry. The CIPR suggests that future governments need to dedicate themselves to strengthening the Equal Pay act, ensuring it is universally applied. The State of the Profession report, due to be revealed sometime this week, will contain up-to-date information on the size of the current income gap, but last year’s study showed that the gap between men and women was as large as £12,390 in senior roles.

Pinch adds, “Looking outside of our traditional areas of influence, some of the really big questions facing our society – internet governance, data protection – have (so far) not figured largely in contemporary political debate, but our future government will need to take a lead on finding answers to them.’

“Most of these issues are not ones for which a government can simply legislate, and most of them do not have a simple, straightforward solution. Rather, they require an open and informed public conversation which will allow us to arrive at a sustainable set of policies and maintain the UK’s world lead in what are critically important areas.”