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The less the young know about politics the better.

Byline: By Catherine Jones Western Mail

As the Assembly Government wants pupils to be taught party politics, Catherine Jones argues, heaven help us

LORD help the little children for they may have mobile phones, personal computers and trampolines aplenty but a new report suggests they might be forced to shadow local councillors and politicians.

Assembly Government members have come to the conclusion that the best way to get young people to vote is to teach them about political parties.

The 'cross-party' report - a phrase to get boys and girls scattering to fake 'My child needs to be excused from politics on account of a shocking recurrent migraine' letters - has been put together by the Assembly's Local Government and Public Services Committee Schools. (Make that a week off in the note).

Politicians, said to be 'alarmed' at the low turnout among young voters, have recommended that the Assembly Government makes sure all pupils are encouraged to take part in school councils, which were recently made compulsory in Wales.

Schools, says the report, should also get more guidance on teaching 'political literacy', in particular on the role of political parties, and one method suggested is the shadowing of local councillors and Assembly Members.

Stop sniggering at the back - we're trying to make a serious point. In the 2003 Assembly elections only 16% of under-25s voted while the percentage of registered 18 to 34-year-olds who did not vote was almost 80%.

Heed the committee's chairwoman, Ann Jones, who says, 'If young people are so disengaged now, what hope is there for the future of democracy in Wales?

'We need to see citizenship education in Wales delivered in a balanced and co-ordinated way that takes full account of the need to develop political understanding among young people, and to teach them about the roles, policies and positioning of political parties as well as political processes.'

Still listening? What do you mean you're refusing to sit through a constituency meeting with the AM for Ceredigion? One detention isn't punishment enough. You can sit through two of the meetings instead - and a gathering of the Assembly's Local Government and Public Services Committee Schools instead of six of the best.

Need we labour the point? Am I bovvered? Look at my face, Miss. I AIN'T BOVVERED!

The report isn't a complete D-minus. It does suggest elections chiefs set down targets on how they propose to get more young people from poorer backgrounds to vote, which is at least putting the responsibility for youth disinterest where it belongs - firmly on the shoulders of our adult leaders.

But isn't that the point? How do you make Scrooge give to the poor? People have to go through a process, usually known as getting old, miserable and boring, to achieve such a worthy epiphany.

Politics is strictly a grown-up - all things being relative - world governed by self-interest masking as power to the rabble, and there's every danger the perspicacious young, unburdened by the pomp of age, will suss this straightaway.

While young people today may be far more obsessed with money than previous generationsthey still inhabit a world where important things are music, makeup and Heat magazine. Actually that goes for a lot of adults too - which may be part of the problem. While kids get it in the neck about society's wrongs - obesity and Asbos spring to mind - their parents set the worst of examples by shovelling down a ready-meal while gawping at foul-mouthed contestants on Big Brother.

The first lesson for us all. Young people 'interested' in politics are usually the kind who go around Gothing it up in black T-shirts - a scruffy appearance which belies the fact they join their Tuscany- holidaying parents around the dinner table every evening for a New Labour de-briefing.

Of course it's difficult to know who would benefit more from school lessons on political parties - the Left or the Right.

On the one hand you'll get the half-empty left-leaning classes taught by self-interested staff in safe public sector jobs with I'm-all-right-Jack pensions. On the other, the most popular lessons these days may well be those given by a right-wing maverick (probably ex-private-school) teacher who advocates the entrepreneurial spirit and a Porsche by 21.

Another lesson is this: the less the young know about politics the better, unless the aim is to destroy any future interest.

Then again, if there's something children need to learn it's this: There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Society's determination they should not be slapped and should want for nothing has created the nauseating image of a mini generation reared on French cheeses and a trip to and from school in a 4x4 with a TV on the rear seat.

It may be a pipe dream for many - and who would necessarily desire such a life? - but in these times of increasingly widespread, relative posterity, many more children are enjoying the material fruits of their parents' labour. They expect several foreign holidays a year and constantly updated wardrobes that ape adult styles.

But what is given with one hand is taken away with another and while we ply them with the kind of 'goodies' previous ages might only have dreamt of, we take away a far more valuable gift - the right to have absolutely zero interest in politics. Gather round children. It's payback time!
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 7, 2006
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