If you’re in the UK, you may have heard a new craze in the lead up to the University Challenge Final. I am, of course, talking about Monkmania – the love of Eric Monkman; Economics student, head of Wolfson College, Cambridge’s UC team and all-round genius. His eager attitude, facial expressions and sheer brainpower have won over the country.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that all the attention Monkman has garnered is positive; in fact, most probably like him “ironically”. They love to mock him, rather than genuinely love him. He’s a novelty that they’re probably already bored of at the time of publishing this. I put it to you, however, that this sudden wave of attention for University Challenge, Monkman himself and academia in general, could be good.
Over the last few weeks, a lot has happened in British politics. If you know me, you will probably have guessed that it was only a matter of time before I waded into this mess. I, among a large number of others, have been bitterly disappointed in the decisions made by our country and its leaders. Still, this isn’t going to be a rant about the EU referendum; rather the things I’ve noticed during it.
Social media can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to politics. It allows for open discussion and sharing of information. It also allows for false information, scaremongering and aggressive arguments – with very few consequences. Throughout the process of the EU referendum I’ve seen a vast amount of both good and bad political discussion on social media, particularly Facebook. The scale of these posts is very unusual, unless there’s a vote coming up. It’s not necessarily that people don’t care, but people don’t believe they need to remain active in politics – and this is simply wrong.
Political decisions literally shape the way our country is run, and the only way we can have a say in that is by being active and showing our country’s leadership that we care. Voting, while incredibly, incredibly important, is not the be-all-and-end-all, and to truly use your vote it’s important to have a good understanding of what you’re voting for. It is vital for young people to stay active and use our voices throughout the political cycle – the government may not always listen, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak our minds and get our opinions out there; we cannot be heard if there’s nothing to listen to. Our futures depend on the decisions our government make now; that isn’t something to be apathetic about. So what can we do?
Remember That Your Vote Counts.
If there’s one thing this referendum has shown us, it’s that our votes count. The majority of people, including Leave campaign leaders and many Leave voters, believed that we would vote to remain in the EU. Over the days following the referendum, there were many stories in the press of ‘Bregretters’ – people who had voted leave, mostly as a ‘protest’ vote, and were now regretting it. There is no such thing as a protest vote; if you don’t believe in something or don’t want it to happen, don’t vote for it. There are consequences to all of our actions, especially in something like this. Our entire country’s future has been changed – that isn’t something to take lightly.
Have an Opinion – and Back It Up.
Having an opinion on general issues and current affairs allows you to choose who/what to vote for more easily. You don’t have to know everything about everything, but reading up on issues that interest you will help you see who else is interested in and working to deal with those issues in a way you agree with. In order to be able to back up your opinion of course, you’d need to;
Again, I’m not saying you need to learn how everything in British politics works, or who makes the tea in the Houses of Parliament, but getting educated on the issues allows us to make informed decisions when it comes to voting.
Having an opinion is important, but it isn’t enough – being able to back up your opinion with facts and figures is vital; if you can’t find the research to support your views, you may need to rethink. Often political parties and groups rely on people not researching, and instead following their emotions wholeheartedly. Britain First, for example, use speculation, scaremongering and “patriotism” to reel people in and convince them to join their cause; a cause built on racism, islamophobia and hatred. One of their most recent campaigns has been based on a claim that there is an illegal immigrant camp in Sherwood Forest, and that inhabitants are cutting down trees and littering; a claim that has been debunked by the real builders of the camp, British teenagers (now in their twenties) who built it from fallen trees several years ago – not by destroying the forest. A quick Google search is enough to refute many of BF’s claims, and the same goes for a lot of political campaigns and promises.
Don’t base your votes purely on election propaganda – a lot of the time this is grossly over-exaggerated and promises aren’t likely to be kept. Research party leaders, watch debates and work out who you trust and agree with before believing any promises made in the run up to a vote. In the EU referendum, for example, many Leave voters were left regretting their decision after promises to put £350m a week into the NHS were debunked by Nigel Farage, and later Iain Duncan Smith. Of course they should have kept their promise, however with their reputations and track records, it is hardly surprising that this was never the intention.
Michael Gove was recently quoted saying that “People in this country have had enough of experts” – while this may well be true, it’s simply bad politics. We need experts for a reason; they know what they’re talking about. Of course your opinions can be partially based on emotion, you have to care about what you’re talking about, but that can’t be your only reasoning for thinking and voting how you do; you’re better than that.
Engage in Conversation and Have An Open Mind.
Don’t be afraid to discuss politics and your views with others, even if they disagree – it is just as important to understand other peoples’ views as well as your own. We can learn and develop our views in talking to other people – plus it gives you somewhere to show off all of your research! Saying that, however;
Keep it Civil.
It doesn’t matter how awful or just plain wrong someone else’s opinion is, it won’t get you anywhere to get angry. Share your views and use your research to back them up; no one can argue with fact, no matter how hard they try.
Last but not least, just to bookend this:
VOTE, VOTE, VOTE.
I don’t care who/what you vote for or how tactically you vote, so long as you get out there and do it. We could be faced with a general election much sooner than planned, so be prepared and use your vote wisely.