Friday, 21 February 2014

Why Britain's Young People Are More Engaged Than Ever

The other day I was listening to  Radio 5 Live with Victoria Derbyshire, who was talking to four teenagers in light of the recent Demos report, saying that teenagers are less likely to get a job due to unfair stereotypes, more interestingly however it also included data that suggests that today's youth (my generation), are more socially and politically engaged than past generations:
  • 87% believe social media is effective in driving change
  • 38% have signed a petition online
  • 29% have used Facebook or Twitter to raise awareness of a cause
  • 19% have donated money online
It was this, in particular that caught my interest. Two-thirds of teachers thought that today's youth are more politically engaged than their own, however, evidence would suggest we are also the most prosecuted and pressured generation for some time. Surely that's unfair?  (Click to look back at a previous post on our struggling youth and poor education system). 

Social media excites me. Its invigorating. A constantly, rapidly evolving creature that is truly revolutionising absolutely everything in every corner of society. As a teenager, I know that, because I'm at the frontline. I've grown up alongside social media, and seen it become the young person's tool.

 Young people aren't interested in politicians fumbling around playing the same old dirty politics, and the same old people, playing the same old game. That's not why we're seeing a sudden increase engagement. It's because as young people, we now have our own tools and methods, our own ways to have a voice and to engage, that is really relevant to us. We can use Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to raise awareness, or to fight a cause in our own way, without the requirement of all that boring old stuff, because we have our own platform. Jonathan Birdwell, Head of the Citizenship and Political Participation Programme said "They [teenagers] value bottom-up social action over top-down politics, and social enterprise over government bureaucracy." This summarises exactly my point; we're creating our own political opinions and methods and social media shares responsibility for this. 

In social media, we have a perfectly tailored platform just for us (after all, we made it) which we can use to get engaged in all types of social and political issues. In addition to this, it's not just a very accessible platform, but an increasingly effective one, especially for teens who know how to use it in the most successful manner. Social media make it very easy to reach a vast amount of people, and share thoughts, and to get involved. People can join online communities about certain issues they feel strongly about, and get very involved in an area purely from a computer or smartphone. It really is a revolution in the way we campaign.

However, there is only a limit to the positive impact this engaged generation can have, due to the unfair stereotypes produced by the media. Government and business alike should really consider listening and engaging with this enthusiastic, and very well-informed generation. Personally I think, in certain cases such as the obvious, education, we have the primary experience of how the system works for the people in it. We deserve to have our willingness to express opinions on issues such as education treated like gold dust, especially seeing as Michael Gove certainly doesn't know what he's doing.

As I have already shown, I also think that my generation is the generation that really understands the nature of social media, and our opinions on it should also be listened to eagerly. In Chicago, at a convention to educate youths from unprivileged backgrounds about internet safety, it was discovered that teens are very aware of the dangers of the internet, and make the conscious decision on how open they are online. Furthermore, it was revealed that in many cases, teens have come up with methods and approaches to internet safety unknown to the adults teaching.

I think I've shown quite clearly why my generation are the most socially and politically engaged for a long time. But it needs to be realised by the people in charge, who should use this to their advantage and consult young people, and take them seriously. Media stereotypes are clearly exaggerated, and are untrue for the majority. From my experience, most people my age are hard-working and determined to carve out the best future for themselves as possible. Political parties especially, have ignored young people particularly in policy choice, focusing on pensioners who give them the golden ticket to power. This ought to change, and Britain's bright youth should have more of a say on what happens in Parliament.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Are Pressure Groups Harmful to British Politics?

This short essay was originally written for an AS exam question.

Pressure groups, are single interest groups that lobby the government and the public on the area in which they specialise. Some people argue, that these groups play a detrimental role in British democracy, damaging the way in which our country is run. I shall be looking at both this side, and the opposing side of the argument. 

The first proposition for the argument is the that pressure groups misrepresent the public. Insider groups, that are consulted by the government when they require specialist knowledge due to the nature of their generalist civil service, have the ability to influence policy at a very early stage, for example the NFU is currently helping with the impacts of flooding on agriculture. This may be seen as undemocratic as they have a distinct head-start over outsider groups. Groups can also be seen as egotropic and selfish, such as Unite and the tube strikes, that affected the daily routine of thousands in London. Just like the government, groups don’t necessarily represent all of their members, for instance Unite only had a 40% turnout for their vote for tube strikes. This internal lack of representation reflect that in modern society, and can thus be seen that pressure groups do not fulfil their aims to represent the people on certain issues. 

A major problem can be seen with business. It is often clear that business groups get listened to by the government more often this can be seen as a result of the economic significance in which these powerful companies sustain, and the need for economic success for the government, which in turn often decides whether or not they are re-elected. In addition to this, business groups have the money to lobby the government, whereas other groups may not be so wealthy, which is a misrepresentation purely down to the wealth of a group of people, this appears very undemocratic. Furthermore, this lobbying and deals are often made behind closed doors. A ‘hushed’ example of big business lobbying like this has surfaced very recently, in which it has been revealed that a group called the Specialist Healthcare Alliance set up by the NHS is entirely funded by pharmaceutical companies, and is chaired by a lobbyist installed by them, this has been seen as giving them large influence on NHS policy. This would appear to be very unhealthy for British democracy, and is an example of money buying influence. An additional argument that pressure groups are harmful for British politics is often seen in the methods that they adopt. Some use lawless methods in order to put across their point, for instance the TUS, that rioted in a vandalised the Millbrook Centre (Conservative HQ) in 2010 over tuition fees. This is unlawful and unfair on others: it wastes police time who have to be drafted in to control the riots, when they could potentially be doing other serious work. This is seen as unjustified violence, is completely against what democracy stands for. In addition, methods such as that of the Animal Liberation Movement, who sent bomb-letters to the scientists which were exploding in the hands of “cruel demons which are testing medicines on animals” in order to prevent the building of a laboratory in Cambridge appear to undermine democracy, and pose a threat to system.

Finally, it can be argued that the groups are do not educate effectively as they are bias towards their point of view. Groups often give advice to the government in favour of their cause, such as the NFU blaming the recent floods on a lack of dredging, groups can be seen as skewing an argument from their direction, which misinforms either the public or the government. The fact that there is no neutral stance poses a threat to British politics as both sides of an argument aren’t always equally voiced. This is also manifest in the flamboyant EDL protests, that scares people from Islam unfairly, when they are really just a group of paranoid fascists. 

On the other hand, people may argue that pressure groups are a positive aspect of British politics, and actually add to the wealth and colour of our democracy. It can be argued, that pressure groups are actually successful in representing the electorate. Due to the nature of a party system, the two main parties, the Tories and Labour, have to broaden their policy to gain the vote of as many people as possible.  This means pressure groups fill the gaps where people feel neither party represent them. People join pressure groups to fine tune their beliefs dues to an intensity of feel. This is evident under the coalition government, as nobody voted for the Coalition Agreement, people may have decided to turn to a pressure group in order to be represented on a belief the government would not represent them on. This can be seen, as the RSPB has more members than all three main political parties combined, which shows that people feel these groups are very relevant. 

As touched on earlier, insider groups are often used by the government when specialist information and knowledge that the civil service do not possess is required. Pressure groups can be seen as having a positive educative role in informing, and assisting the government on policy, as well as pointing out flaws in a particular policy that could have unintended consequences. This means pressure groups can help make government make good quality policy, and well informed decisions, which would seem to assist British politics and its wealth. Similarly, the groups can be seen as a form of scrutiny for the government, keeping them in check, for instance the Taxpayers Alliance uncovering details on MPs expenses. This is often successful as they can attract media attention, bring such things to the public. 

A final way in which pressure groups add to the health of British politics is the fact that they can mobilise the public, raising their interest in a certain issue, and  encouraging political participation. This results in a well-informed public that can make good judgements issues, meaning the government must keep on their toes, and forcing them to have ongoing engagement with the electorate rather than just every five years. Groups are an alternative method of engaging the public in politics, (which has proved difficult in recent times) and this can be seen again by the RSPBs large membership. Pressure groups are a different vessel for the public to get involved in politics, which means it remains relevant.

To conclude, I think that pressure groups are good for British politics, as they are an effective form of scrutiny, and holding the executive accountable for their actions. I also think insider groups are key to making policy decisions, and if we did not have them assisting the government, we would have plenty more ineffective, or even detrimental policies that would effective the public's welfare. However, I do have concern for the involvement of big business in lobbying the government, especially behind close doors, using their money and power for influence, as his is unfair and unjust on other groups and less wealthy individuals.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Should Video Games be Considered Modern Art?

I've played video games for the majority of my life, and for periods, been very engaged with the gaming 'sphere'. Gamers tend to get viewed in a bad light, with outsiders considering them as nerdy and geeky and a bid sad, this is, in some cases very true, but a lot of gamers are normal people, just like musicians, or people who like to watch movies. I'm going to put forward a gamers point of view that video games, are a form of art that is unappreciated by the majority of society.

 I shall consider art simply as creative expression that evokes emotion, my own personal definition that I believe is versatile, and allows for a large scope of mediums of art.

The challenge, and interaction of games can keep you engaged for hours and hours. However what many people enjoy in games is the brilliant stories that go with them. Many video games stories emotionally engage the player in a similar way to great literature. For instance, I personally find the Mass Effect series achieve this very successfully. Playing as Commander Shepard of the Normandy Ship, the game involves many high-tempo missions, and a diverse galactic community that Shepard must save from terror and destruction. You play a role in Shepard's and his team's personal life, as well as galactic politics. Furthermore, Mass Effect (and other games) achieve something unique to video games. They give you the ability to make your own decisions with their own consequences, meaning each playthrough is unique to you. This takes emotional engagement to a different level, tailored just for a single specific player. The game also allows you to form relationships with other character, giving the player a substantial insight into their lives and their problems, you must help them with their personal troubles in order to gain their loyalty, which shows you their lives outside the main story. This causes the player to feel sympathy for these other characters.

Commander Shepard and co

 It is true that many games are made in this way, and are purely games made to absorb the player in intense violence, this is all true in film surely? Many Hollywood blockbusters are pumped out with loads of action and no real story or moral. But this does not mean we deny any films being brilliant art.

Video games combine all forms of more traditional art, such as music, literature and visual art. Combining these in harmony, as well as adding the unique interactive twist video games offer can prove very difficult. However when achieved, forms truly modern art, that I would argue is most relevant to our modern, intense, digital society. Whereas people can merely observe paintings, video games offer something exciting and astonishing; player can interact and play a role in the outcome of the game, and deal with the consequences, as well as appreciating many other traditional factors such as music or acting. Video games are made both by the artist, and observer.