Branding democracy: let’s start in schools

Chris Smith, Student Impact Coordinator, SSAT writes…

‘Don’t bother voting’. This is Russell Brand’s message to us all.

Brand’s recent interview with Jeremy Paxman has caught the public attention. Receiving praise, derision and serious political commentary in almost equal measure.

His message is simple: the current system doesn’t work so why bother engaging in it. In fact he goes as far as to call for a revolution. What his ‘revolution’ would look like is not that clear, however. There are a lot of big ideas framed in a genuine feeling of frustration with the world he sees around him. But as one response points out, Brand seems to think there are ‘simple answers to complex questions’. Sadly, there rarely are.

What has probably caught people’s attention though, is not the potential that we will be waking to barricades in the street but that Brand is not alone in his distaste for politics in this country. There are many others who are disengaged. Many others who perceive the system as ignoring the needs of the people. Many others who do not see the point in voting.

Personally, I see the vote as a privilege. It was with excitement that I entered the polling station at the age of 18 ready to have a say in the way our country was run. And as I watched the Remembrance Day services this weekend I was reminded of the great sacrifice many have made defending our right to it.

But just because I see and believe in the benefit of voting does not mean I am about to enter into a diatribe on why others should. Instead, I would like to pick out something that Paxman said during a brief ceasefire in Brand’s verbal barrage.

Responding to Brand’s assertion that the ‘system’ doesn’t work for most people, Paxman states that ‘of course it doesn’t work for them if they don’t bother to vote’. An interesting point because the people he speaks of see it the other way round completely. They need to see the benefits of voting to do it in the first place. But how do you show people the benefits?

It is my belief that it needs to be done young. It needs to happen at school. Too often young people leave school believing that their voice does not count. I do not mean to suggest there should be a ‘democracy’ lesson on the timetable every fortnight to ram the benefits down their throat, but that students should actively participate in it.

In my role as Student Impact Coordinator at SSAT I have the privilege of visiting and working with a lot of brilliant schools and their student councils. Here, as debates rage about the school, election manifestos are prepared and students have a real impact on their school, young people are able to learn and see for themselves the benefits of the democratic process.

Surely, if students have engaged with and seen the benefits of democratic processes at school they will be more likely to engage in the future. They may also learn that democracy is not always about getting what you want. And, to be frank, I very much hope that Brand does not get what he wants. The vote is a privilege that we must ensure our students appreciate.

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