These words are being written in London at a time when five people aged 14 – 22 have been knifed to death on our streets. Is the question of how to bring an end to these dreadful events linked to the question above?
Do political parties know very much about the street culture that produces gangs or motivates young people to wreak such havoc in our communities? Are we living at a time when the gap between young people from stable and comfortable neighbourhoods on the one hand and poor and struggling communities on the other is becoming too great for simplistic, one-size-fits-all solutions? Are we producing an ungovernable generation? Will any of our words fit the bill? Who are the people who can bridge this gap?
Members of the Arsenal football team pay regular visits to the inmates of Pentonville Prison. Pop stars are seen from time to time cuddling children in refugee camps in distant countries. Perhaps we should expect more of well-paid sportsmen and women and celebrities. These are likely to be the people who resonate in the minds of our teenagers. Is it not time that they put something back into society? Could not our politicians work with these celebrities to learn how better to touch the hearts or gain a listening from young people? Talk shop style events and groups are not likely to make much impact.
Society at large needs to listen harder to the voice, even the incoherent voice, of the rising generation. Our politicians need to find ways of gaining their trust and respect. They should not be kept at bay simply because most of them don’t have a vote. Prison doesn’t work. It simply deepens alienation, turns people into drug-users and even radicalises them. Politicians should give their best energies to finding more constructive ways of dealing with young people’s needs.
When all is said and done, however, the truth is that politics might appear too complicated for most young people to bother about. Yet there seems to be a general and genuine interest in such complicated subjects as the First World War and the needs of the environment. Such subjects are perceived to belong to the “real” world. And they can be coupled with imaginative and practical activities – site visits and work-in-progress. Perhaps a much more concerted drive to make politics just as interesting could be devised with visits to Council Chambers and parliament, interviews with MPs and Peers, “problem-solving games” and the like.
Single issues, a concern with particular and narrowly defined causes, have often been blamed for a diminishing interest in (and understanding of) politics. They should be viewed positively rather than negatively. They can be a jumping-off point for more general interests in politics. After, all they allow their supporters the chance to see results, outcomes, benefits of a tangible kind. It’s always a good principle to start where people are and see how best to broaden their interests from that point.
The word “care” must always attend our attempts to address this question. Our care for young people. Their care for the world they live in, the communities they are part of, the friends they treasure. And, in the same sense, we need to nurture a real care for politics too. It will only ever be done on the basis of trust and respect. Once young people’s curiosity is aroused, who knows what world-changing energies might be released?
Leslie Griffiths is the President of the Boys’ Brigade and a member of the House of Lords. He is supported by two young colleagues. Bethan Laughlin is 21 and has a degree in politics and has accumulated a lived, practical experience in Copenhagen, Malawi and Calais. Oliver Bourton is taking a gap year after his A-levels. He has applied to study History and Politics at Oxford for the coming year. He’s interested in debating and reading, as well as campanology and his mum’s dinners. The above paper has been written after splendid conversations between all three of us.