You would be forgiven for thinking that in this new ‘Age of Upheaval’, ‘Age of Anger’, ‘Age of Rage’ or whatever you want to call the turbulent times in which we live, that there is no hope. I often have those moments too, despite priding myself on being naturally (or maybe naively!) optimistic
But don’t despair. There is hope. There is a brighter future. And that hope has been striking, marching, protesting in all of the UK’s major towns and cities and all across the globe for the past 8 months. I am of course talking about the ‘School Climate Strikes’ kickstarted by maybe the coolest 16-year-old to ever grace this earth, Swedish student Greta Thurnberg.
She began the strikes in August of 2018 in her native Sweden, after deciding not to attend her school until the Swedish general election in September of that year had taken place, to raise awareness of the looming climate catastrophe occurring all around the globe, but more specifically after a spate of wildfires and heatwaves in Sweden last summer.
For a long time, the environment has been seen to be a fringe issue secluded to a cadre of Leftie, Hippie Green Party activists and wood-be tree-huggers, only talked about in London and other metropoles. But what the ‘School Climate Strikes’ have shown is that from Truro to Tyneside, from Stockholm to Sydney, from Dublin to New Dehli – young people will not allow their planet to be destroyed at the hands of a complacent, selfish, out-of-touch political and economic class who refuse to declare a climate emergency and take immediate action.
What the strikes have also highlighted for me is the severe lack of young people at the centre of our politics. Young people have been excised from the body politic, skewing the demographic spectrum to favour older people, who are significantly more Conservative-minded. What this has done, is to shut out the voices of young people and their opinions at an age where it has never been more important to be engulfed in the world of modern politics, and to be given the platform for their views to be expressed which should be their right, and any future Labour government should be committing to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds.
But it also leads me to another set of important questions surrounding our politics, and whether it is fit for the 21st century. To the outside world, politics in the UK seems exciting because it is built upon an archaic from of adversarial and cut-throat norms and customs that have shaped the scope and nature of debate in this country historically. The Houses of Parliament are literally crumbling around MP’s – a metaphor for our decaying politics.
If young people are to be given a greater voice within our politics, they must be given it as part of a package of more wholesale reform and renewal of our political and socio-economic institutions. That means reforming our voting systems so that representation is gifted based on a proportional share of a vote. That means having an elected upper chamber. It means de-centralising political and economic power from London in a more rigorous devolution package that gives a greater say to people in their local areas.
The School Climate Strikes have given me hope that a fresh, radical politics is out there, and waiting for the younger generation to take the reins of power. When they do, we’ll be all the better for it.