The first York Union debate of the 2014/15 academic year considered the issue of youth apathy, and whether young people themselves are to blame for their disengagement with Westminster politics. While the event was a generally friendly affair, the audience was nonetheless subjected to impassioned arguments from both sides of the panel.
Indeed, Business Editor of the Spectator, Martin Vander Weyer was joined by the equally charismatic Stephen Bush in favour of the motion. Stephen is the driving force behind the Telegraph’s Morning Briefing.
In opposition was Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North and University of York alumna. Accompanying her was Will Brett, Head of Media for the Electoral Reform Society and former political researcher.
Martin Vander Weyer kick-started the debate by attacking the victim culture prevalent within the current British electorate. Those who remain inactive as a consequence of insufficient political knowledge or a lack of interest cannot blame anyone else but themselves. He left the audience with the enticing last few words: “It’s in your hands, get engaged”.
Chloe Smith responded by stating that youth apathy is not a matter of blame, but an issue that both people and politicians must come together to address. She provided reasons for youth disengagement, citing distrust of politicians, lack of interest and not feeling listened to. She finished by urging young people to vote in order to break a vicious cycle that has led to young people being ignored and further alienated from our political system.
Stephen Bush took to the stage by offering a stanch defence of democracy and the value of our vote. He criticised the claim that all parties are the same, and stated that if we don’t take control over who govern us then things will never improve.
Finally, Will Brett expressed his disapproval of the notion that young people are naïve, unable to understand the difficult and multifaceted nature of modern politics. Asserting that our political system has failed young people, he posited that reforms to this system must be at the heart of voter reengagement.
The panel then fielded questions from the York Union audience on topics such as lowering of the voting age, pensioner favouritism and compulsory voting.
In the end, it was the proposition that was able to command the largest swing of voters on the night. It seemed that not everyone could be convinced however, as one abstaining voter provided a moment of comedy as he boisterously proclaimed “I’m a Libertarian”. Nonetheless, the debate was thought-provoking and good spirited, giving the audience a taster of what the York Union has in store this academic year.