Justine Greening last year argued that “you can’t do Brexit to young people, you’ve got to do it with young people.” But with Brexit negotiations, or a lack thereof, continuing to dominate the political landscape, young people are becoming more disengaged with mainstream politics than ever before.
Generation Z – those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s – comprises a diverse, intelligent and astute group of individuals who are passionate about making the world a better place.
The student- and pupil-led climate change strike held last week and the growing popularity of groups such as Our Future Our Choice exemplify that young people are acutely aware of the importance of political action but are choosing to divert their attention away from the Westminster bubble.
As a politics student, I have witnessed rising frustration among my peers since the Brexit vote in 2016. British politics has become a fractious and hostile place, fuelled by vitriol and personal ambition. My great-grandfather, Walter Halls, was an MP and I joined a political party when I was 13. Politics runs in my family; it has fascinated and inspired me for as long as I can remember. Yet, now every time I turn on the news, all I feel is anger and dismay.
With parties endlessly fighting among themselves and debate becoming limited to matters solely of the EU, the political sphere has shrunk and pushed out salient issues that are in desperate need of addressing.
The splits in the Conservative and Labour parties this week have echoed mounting apathy towards traditional party politics expressed by young people. With the rise of social media and unprecedented access to campaigns and causes, there is an ever-expanding gulf between what politicians are discussing and what young people are passionate about.
We are not disengaged with the political, we are simply exhausted with a system that fails to represent us and the issues we care about. Mental health services are fighting for funding while MPs debate the colour of our passports.
Vulnerable young girls are being neglected by a system that cares more about fishing quotas than FGM. Millions are living in poverty while the super-rich are fleeing to save their own backs. With the country in a state of flux and confusion, it is no wonder that our engagement with mainstream politics is faltering.
Our dismay extends far beyond the simple matter of staying or leaving. We are passively and actively rebelling against the systemic failure of a parliament with such a narrow agenda.
I spoke to Tom, a politics student at the University of Sheffield, who spoke of how he “began to take less and less interest in the topic of Brexit, in particular last year, as it was so repetitive and quite depressing”.
Despite following politics closely, Tom said he no longer felt that any political party aligned with his values, and that since Brexit, pressing issues have been brushed under the carpet.
He argued that while austerity “might not be a new or exciting issue, it continues to have a disastrous effect on people’s lives, and we need to start talking about it again”.
A similar sentiment was echoed by fellow Sheffield students Ellie, Karl and Monica, who expressed their frustration at how current debates have obscured the subjects of period poverty, homelessness and climate change.
Despite their membership of the Labour Party, Hannah and Dan from Sheffield Hallam described their distrust of the mainstream and posited that they believe their voices are more likely to be heard by their peers than in the traditional avenues of power.
Dom, a Sheffield graduate who left Labour last year, has spoken of how “young people are turning to more informal methods because the mainstream parties have ignored us for years on issues like education, austerity and climate change – showing a real disregard for not only our concerns, but things that will concern everyone in the future”.
These views are not those of a minority, they mirror those of thousands of young people around the country. Generation Z are disengaged with mainstream politics, not because of ignorance or indolence, but as a result of a political class who are detached from reality.
A sole focus on Brexit is a total negation of the political passions of young people in Britain. Unless Westminster responds to our ensuing apathy with the diverse, multifaceted and compassionate politics that this country deserves, the future will be one of further splits within parties and ideological hostility.
Now is the time for the Westminster bubble to burst and offer young people a seat at the table, before we follow the Independent Group and choose to take our vociferous views elsewhere.
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