Lamenting the alienation of the Thatcher generation is a fashionable pastime. Blaming political parties for youth detachment is becoming commonplace, too. London Youth Matters' report yesterday was just the latest in a long line to worry about young people and politics. But the anguish is over the top, and the attribution of blame is badly focused.
Young people have never been wild about politics. Why vote, when you could be snogging? Sex, fear of pregnancy, failed exams and first pay cheques; all these seem far more exciting to the average teenager than debates about stable macro-economic management, pensions policy and joining a single currency. Grand, confrontational issues might stir a bit of interest (opposing the Vietnam War or winning women equal rights) but there aren't so many of those around at the moment. Digging tunnels and crossing swords with those evil monsters the bulldozers gets the adrenalin going. Going to a local council meeting and discussing the state of local schools, though more effective in the long run, is pretty dull in comparison.
The middle-aged former activists who moan that it was never like this in their day are kidding themselves. The politics expert David Butler, of Oxford University, says: "It's nothing new, and there is nothing special anyone can do about it." According to Butler, voting participation rises with age; as we become more middle aged, more established, more settled, we vote more, too. Until we hit 55. Then, whether it be ill health or a mid-life crisis, we seem to get bored with ballot papers and participation declines once more.
Even the London Youth Matters report admits that the proportion of people who say "politics doesn't mean anything to me" falls from 21 per cent of 15- 21-year-olds to only 14 per cent of 26- 35-year-olds.
Of course it would be better if young people voted, and if they felt that political parties represented their interests. Anything that political parties, London Youth Matters, Rock the Vote, or anyone else can do to improve political education and to encourage participation is extremely welcome. But we shouldn't expect miracles. And we certainly shouldn't expect to see Tony Blair growing dreadlocks like Swampy, or John Major swinging his hips with the Spice Girls, in pursuit of a bit of youth credibility.
Where government fails to tackle youth problems - including the youth unemployment, homelessness and crime cited in the rest of the London Youth Matters report - then we should wring our hands, get angry and shout for something to be done. But where politicians merely fail to be sexy enough to distract from the inevitable excitements of teenage life, we should shrug our shoulders and just wait for those teenagers to grow up.Reuse content