I didn’t eat a curry until I was 23 because I didn’t like them. Well, I’d never tried them, but my mum said I wouldn’t, so I took it as read. Finally, after too many nights outs forcing down an omelette while my friends devoured their baltis, I tried one. I love my mother but, boy, was she wrong about this. I grieved for all the years of keema naans I’d missed out on. Mother doesn’t always know best.
A fortnight has passed since the EU referendum, but it’s still troubling me. In the run-up to the fateful day, I conducted my own exit poll, asking learners (and some staff) at the smoking shelter which way they would vote. It became clear that some of our young people wouldn’t be voting at all. In some cases, this was down less to conscientious objection and more to the fact they weren’t sure what a referendum was.
A few said they’d vote remain but even more said they’d vote leave – and they were certain about that choice. What’s still concerning me, though, is the answers they gave when I asked them why.
Both campaigns fielded supporters from across the political spectrum and, as a socialist, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with David Cameron. Our learners, however, were overwhelmingly in the leave camp. The reasons they gave were, by and large, variations on: “Because that’s what my friend/mum/grandad/some bloke down the pub told me.”
Ever was it thus. We form our political viewpoints within our social context, so there’s something to be said for not worrying. But I am. While I personally didn’t want our students to vote leave, I at least wanted them to take part and have solid reasons for their decision. The high levels of apathy and low levels of political literacy worry me.
The irony of my criticising those who inherit their parents’ political viewpoints isn’t lost on me. As a fiery teenager in 1980s Sheffield, I took on the views of my out-of-work dad and my four-jobs-to-keep-us-going mum.
My political identity was shaped by picket lines, free school meals and a father who was made redundant on Christmas Eve. I never met a person who admitted to voting Conservative until I was 19; I honestly didn’t think they existed. The first time I voted in a general election, I cried. I still do.
I just didn’t see the same passion for politics in the occupants of the smoking shelter. Perhaps that’s what those who wield power want: a complicit and compliant electorate. Of course, I’d love young people to share my politics, but more than that, I want them to share my passion for politics. We need to inspire them to engage, not just at the ballot box but in independent thought.
Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley