Fearful and Uncertain, Continental Brits Brace for Brexit Vote

 

Alexander Bailey gurgles in three different languages. At six weeks old, he may be one of the last European Britons.

Ineligible to receive Austrian citizenship until age 10 despite being born in Vienna, his British father and Russian mother hurried to get him a U.K. passport before it was too late.

“I want him to be European,” Michael Bailey, 38, said. “I needed to make sure he got a British passport that still said ‘European Union’ on it.”

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Syriza, Podemos, and now Labour?

Syriza, Podemos, and now Labour? The U.K.’s main opposition party is on track to elect its most socialist leader in 30 years as support continues to surge for anti-austerity, pro-nationalization candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn presents pupils with certificates after they perform in a play on their last day of school at Duncombe Primary School on July 16, 2015 in London.

Corbyn, 66, has the most indications of support from Labour’s constituency groups, backing from the U.K.’s two biggest trade unions, Unite and Unison, and topped a YouGov Plc opinion poll last week on the four leadership candidates. Three U.K. bookmakers slashed Corbyn’s odds Wednesday to make him favorite ahead of Andy Burnham.

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When sound is mightier than the sword

Biniam Simon is a softly spoken man, but his voice aims to bring down a dictatorship.

Biniam Simon

Broadcasting from an independent radio station in a quiet Parisian side street, Simon is a 43-year-old journalist in exile, a refugee of the east African country you’ve never heard of, don’t care about, but probably should: Eritrea.

Elections are repeatedly postponed, torture is widespread and Amnesty International believes at least 10,000 political prisoners have been locked up. The country’s press freedom ranking, 180th out of 180, puts it behind North Korea.

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Why do so few young people in Jersey vote?

Few people in Jersey vote. In fact, we are the worst performing country in the OECD for voter turnout. Only 36% of the Island turned out in 2011, putting us behind the likes of Mexico and Estonia for civic engagement.

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But the problem is particularly acute amongst the younger demographic. In 2011, only 16% of Islanders between the ages of 16-34 cast a vote, and I bet the percentage was even lower for 16-25 year olds.

Why so? I won’t revisit the standard reasons given for general voter apathy in Jersey. It is probably true that factors such as the complexity of our political system, the lack of party politics and an honest disinterest in all things political play a strong role in keeping voters, both young and old, away from the ballot box.

My focus will instead be one of the key problems that I believe specifically deters young people from voting: the lack of quality political education.

But before discussing this, a disclaimer. I recognise that lots of young people will choose not to vote regardless of what the States does, having better, more exciting things to do with their time. I still think, however, that there is a core of interested young people in Jersey who would be more politically active given a more supportive civic environment.

And let’s be clear. This is an issue that deserves our attention.

The democratic habits learned at a young age carry through into early adult life. Even if you don’t think politics should be the concern of a Jersey teenager now, that teenager will soon be entering the world of work, paying taxes, looking to find accommodation and using Social Services.

Encouraging civic engagement at a young age will support the health of our democracy for tomorrow.

The key problem I see is that young people are unlikely to engage with something that they do not understand.

Currently, the workings of local politics are taught as a minute fraction of the curriculum in PSHE lessons, which in turn occur only once a week. When students reach sixth-form, the age at which politics is becoming increasingly relevant to their lives, there is no formal provision whatsoever for learning about local politics within the hours of education.

As a result, the average student in Jersey probably knows more about the US political system from watching House of Cards than they do about the workings of the States.

This has to change. The Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel conducted a report into Political Education back in 2010, but nothing significant seems to have come of it. Sporadic school councils and occasional States initiatives such as the annual Youth Assembly aren’t enough for preparing young people to be active, well-informed citizens in Jersey.

Here are some recommendations for change.

In the classroom, the PSHE curriculum needs to be reformed to give more quality time to local politics. The States should be aiming for students to have a good grasp of how our political system works by the age of 16. Senators, Deputies, Constables, Scrutiny, the Council of Ministers: young people should know how it all fits together and what they can do to lobby and influence those in power.

In sixth-form, students need more than their current zero hours on local government. And if that’s too much to ask, the States should at least establish a permanent Youth Assembly (as voted for by Jersey students in 2011), rather than the current annual affair. The Youth Assembly gets students directly involved in politics and its permanent establishment is a short-term solution that would instantly increase civic engagement.

Improving political education is just one of the important ways of increasing turnout amongst the younger demographic. But this article is merely the beginning of a discussion that the people of Jersey need to have. Tackling voter apathy needs to start from the bottom-up and, as the statistics show, this is an issue on which the States is currently failing.

This article was originally published at http://www.change.je, an independent project that seeks to build and engage the political power of young people to achieve progressive change in Jersey. The PDF of the article is here: http://change.je/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Why-do-so-few-young-people-vote.pdf

Keeping the radical flame alive

Nestled in the heart of Durham City, The People’s Bookshop is an independent, radical bookshop that is fast becoming a focal point for progressive politics in the county.

Ben Sellers

Run by Ben Sellers, a former trade unionist and Waterstones employee, its walls overflow with classics of socialist political thought, intermingled with local history and rare books.

’This space is an alternative to the mainstream,’ Ben explains. ‘It seemed like a crazy idea to start with but I wanted to create a place in Durham which could be a hub for political activity and campaigning. I wanted to create a community space for people, a place where they could have a voice.’

Surrounded by volumes of Marx and Engels, Ben speaks passionately about the progress of radical left-wing politics in Durham.

‘It’s been very quiet for a long time. We don’t get frequent protests and campaigns around here but things are changing. For example, the People’s Assembly held a meeting in the Miners’ Hall in July that drew hundreds of people.

Radical

‘The Trades Union Council of Durham also meets every month in my shop and I’ve set up a group called ‘Red Labour’ which stresses the core values of the party.’

Ben is critical of New Labour and the party’s recent history but through The People’s Bookshop he is taking action. ’I think our leaders need a kick and some pressure from below. I don’t sit back and think “I hope Ed Miliband turns out alright”. I’m doing something about it.’