The power and the money

19th May 2006 at 01:00
There seems to be a general feeling that young people are apathetic and cynical towards politics. We have to avoid overstating the case as almost every generation of adults believes that its young people are the worst ever.

Socrates wrote in 300 BC that the young people of his day "scoff at authority and lack respect for their elders . . . and tyrannise their teachers".

There is in fact much evidence that young people are very interested in single-issue politics and campaigns. Go down any high street and you will find fair trade stalls, animal welfare stalls and environmental campaigns staffed overwhelmingly by young people.

Research into the political attitudes of young people continues to suggest that school pupils want to be more involved politically but can't see how to make a difference in party politics, whereas they feel they can in campaigning politics.

Yet, there is widespread cynicism towards party politics. Even under new Labour, it is clear that, if you are exceptionally rich, you can buy influence.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the issue of donations and loans to the main political parties and the question of funding for Tony Blair's pet project - the specialist schools' trust and city academy programmes in England. And, of course, linked to these is the ongoing police investigation into these super-rich funders and progression to the honours lists. On top of other issues north and south of the border, it suggests at best errors of judgment and at worst a cronyism to which new Labour was supposed to be opposed.

When we look at this, we need to examine the impact on young people who already have deep seeds of cynicism towards formal politics.

For those of us arguing that our school pupils need a clearer understanding of democracy and the skills of critical thinking and discourse to begin to influence things, to make a difference, our arguments begin to sound hollow.

When the Westminster science minister and supermarket supremo Lord Sainsbury tells us that therewas some confusion over a pound;2 million loan he lent and a pound;2 million donation he gave (the kind of mistake anyone can make!), and the revelations about nearly pound;40 million worth of undeclared loans to the Labour and Conservative parties, it does suggest to people that they can do little against these interests.

If even the new Labour treasurer and other members of the Cabinet are kept out of the loans loop, no wonder that young people become disillusioned and demoralised. This corruption of our young people is the real crime.

Henry Maitles

Head of department of curricular studies

Faculty of education

University of Strathclyde

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