Growing up in the UK, as in most other countries across the globe, a driver on the roads who doesn’t know what they’re doing is heavily penalised by the law, and verbally by fellow road users. Driving without the proper experience would make you a danger to yourself, other road users and pedestrians alike. It makes sense, right? We throw people out of bars for being drunk and disorderly, don’t serve alcohol to anyone who appears intoxicated; there’s a shared appreciation for the safety of the community and its future. Just because as an adult of age we get entitlement to a driver’s license and the freedom to throw out that fake ID Darren made for us in year 10, we don’t automatically know how to drive or where the best clubs in town are.
You can see where I’m going with this, because like me, you consider yourself to be pretty well educated. You more than likely fall into the c50% of adults who drink alcohol each year, and there’s a pretty good chance that you’re one of 15.2 million women and 18.1 million men in Great Britain who held a full car driving licence in 2005. Or are one of the 17 million Australians who drive a motor vehicle.
The vote. An overlooked and neglected right of adulthood. We get given it, but who teaches us how to use it? Talking politics has become the new talking money – we simply can’t discuss that Mavis! In 2010 only 44% of 18-24 year olds cast their vote in the UK general election. Would we accept almost half of 18-24 year olds driving on our roads without ever having taken a lesson? I don’t think so.
Educated? That’s how I described us. What about your political education? Like myself before, there are thousands of young adults finding themselves with the new responsibility of voting – casting a vote to determine the party (or parties as it may be) who make the choices governing important issues for their future, and the future of their families. Call me a control freak, but I wouldn’t send my grandpa out to buy me new shoes even if I’d sent him with a Polaroid and 12 bullet points of guidance.
Not once was politics brought up at home growing up, despite coming from a very open family and having the stickiest of all sticky beaks. I was educated at a good school, but the closest we got to learning about politics was some hushed whispers in Year 8 about the guy at the front of Math class whose parents obviously voted Tory. So parents aren’t talking to their children about the state of the nations – leaving them only to pick up hearsay from the dinner table. Schools aren’t doing it, because as once with Sex Education; that’s something for the home and ‘our institution can’t be seen to show any specific political inclination’.
Bullshit. My parents gave me sex ed, and so did my school. But I sure as hell haven’t told either what my favourite position is.
This gap is inevitably filled by popular media, the first place young adults look for their insights. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this is not going to necessarily be the most balanced source of information.
We should be encouraging young people to take an interest in politics by creating an understanding of what owning a vote means, and in turn, how to use it. We don’t need to wear our ‘I Heart Gillard’ sweaters in public. But we do need to make sure that populations of voters understand the implications of making an informed choice.
The compulsory vote in Australia; considered an assault on democracy by some, does increase the numbers who turn out to vote (driven entirely by the hefty $20 fine, I’m sure?!); a boast of 94% voter turnout in the previous federal election is a strong one, even accounting for the estimated 10% of unregistered yet eligible voters. More worryingly according to the Australian Election Commission, a third of the overall number of eligible voters who are not enrolled are between 18 and 24 years old. Kevin Rudd had mobilising the youth vote central to his 2013 campaign, and look how that worked out.
A forced, ill-considered vote in Australia is as much use as the vote un-cast in the UK. With the proper education, and skills to seek out and analyse relevant information – we will see what’s in it for us and feel compelled to have our say.
I’m equally at fault – I once again find myself in country where I am not yet entitled to a say in its leadership, it’s taken me 10 years as a voter and several thousand air miles to put my hand up and say ‘help’.
Somewhere along the way, ‘Vote’ and ‘Veto’ have become synonymous anagrams.
So let’s talk dirty. Talk politics. After all, if we don’t contribute we can’t criticise. And that, Prime Minister, is what the fuss is all Abbott.