David Cameron’s letter to Democracy Matters shows active support for practical political education. He recognises that “we still have some way to go to achieve our objective of ensuring that as many people as possible can be involved in, and influence the decisions that make an impact on their day-to-day lives.” He concluded “There is no quick fix to the issue of restoring trust in politics” and encouraged us to continue engaging with his team in future.
His letter lists initiatives the government has taken to empower citizens and encourage an interest in politics, including the Rock Enrol! resource pack! developed by Democracy Matters’ member Bite the Ballot, and a guaranteed place on the National Citizenship Service for every 16 and 17 year old who wants one.
He says “the reason people don’t vote is because they do not think it makes enough of a difference in their lives” and the way to restore trust in politics is “for politicians to keep the promises they make at elections.” The letter includes several points from the party’s manifesto and can be read in full here.
Citizenship and Democracy Pack
Support for practical political education includes a Citizenship and Democracy Pack for young people who want to run as a Conservative candidate in mock elections at school. An earlier version published in 2013 was attacked as political propaganda by Labour and Political Scrapbook, who also put it online.
The new Campaign Pack outlines the Conservative Party’s values, achievements in government and key themes of their 2015 manifesto. It includes a brief ‘Guide to the General Election’ and campaigning activities, such as:
- Developing your campaign message and slogan
- Assembling a campaign team
- Presenting yourself as a candidate
- Drawing up a campaign programme and delivering a great speech
- Promoting your message, with downloadable templates for your newsletter and candidate poster
- Identifying supporters to Get Out the Vote (GOTV)
It is clearly branded as Conservative material with pictures of David Cameron, Boris Johnson, William Hague and diverse supporters. The Mock Election website states: “Politics isn’t something remote that only happens in a far away place called Westminster – politics affects your freedoms, your dreams and your lives. That’s why it is so important we have bright, young people with fresh ideas, and a mock election is your first step into the fray.”
Engaging pupils in the election
Elections for a political party are the main way citizens choose who will govern the country and the priorities of our government, so it’s important that young people learn about it. The contents and activities of this pack convey the essence of party political campaigning together with the Conservative Party’s campaign proposition (to use marketing terms). Every party should produce one and all schools should organise mock elections for pupils to engage in party political organising. The youth wings of parties should be allowed to speak and even organise in schools. However, funding for party political education should be more equal, or at least proportionate to votes cast over an average of two or three elections. We should consider funding it through independent agency, as in Germany.
What’s missing from the pack is the role of an MP and all the things politicians do when in government and parliament. It shows how to apply for the job but little about the job itself or how parties’ and parliament actually work.
This is the job of schools and the citizenship curriculum. Schools need to ensure that pupils get a “balanced presentation of opposing views” as required by the 1996 Education Act (Section 407). Balance should not be boring, which is why parties themselves should tell young people what they are involved in politics and what they want to achieve. Balanced means that teachers ensure that all parties and many different perspectives take part in the debate and that young people learn how to challenge, question and investigate the propositions put forward by each party. Politics is about competing views about priorities and policies, so it can’t be bland or passionless.
Check out the following resources for mock elections:
The Hansard Society produces detailed mock election resources online.
Parliament has a mock election toolkit you can download.
tes connect have several resources on learning how to campaign for schools.
After the election
Whoever wins the election, we aim to talk with them about how to strengthen and improve education for practical politics so that people of all ages, from all sections of the community know how to take part. The party leaders who have responded so far (four out of seven) have all supported our broad aims (and there is no reason to believe the others will not), so we now aim to work out the details with them.