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Do mock elections do more harm than good?

Here’s Olly, our 18 year old Fundraising volunteer from QMU, with an opinion piece on mock elections…

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The Hansard Society, founded in 1944, was established to educate young people about the values and processes of democracy in the UK. They are currently well known for their work in organising and coordinating mock elections in schools. There is no doubt that many students get the chance to learn more about politics and party ideology as well as collaborate with their friends to put forward a manifesto, campaign and make speeches. As a one off, extra-curricular event, a mock election can be a lot of fun and teach some great key skills. But do mock elections do as much harm as good in their pursuit of involving young people in politics?

If, as many of us agree, our political system is flawed, unrepresentative and partisan as well as unthinkably distant from the issues real people – especially young people – experience, why would the day’s worth of hype and excitement followed by silence be worth investing time and money in? The irony is that the absence of participation that follows a mock election in schools in many ways mirrors the lack of involvement and democracy we feel from a government once Election Day is over. In the pursuit of educating young people in what is supposedly good about our political establishment, the chance to vote every five years, they are only entrenching its issues, ultimately ignoring the ways young people can engage in a real kind of politics and affect the world they themselves participate in.

Democracy means power to the people, not power to the select view; in this respect vision is wantonly blurred, and the political establishment would happily let it be that way, but it doesn’t have to be the case. What is far more important to teach to young people is an ideology of self-esteem and confidence and through democratic education this is well within our reach. The Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham has one of the best school councils in the country and as a result its pupils, from age 12 to 18, have the ability to effectually participate in the organisation and progress of their school. Whether it is establishing new extra-curricular societies, helping to interview new teachers or managing projects that benefit the local area, it is the ideas of students that lead change, not just teachers. This is not a mock up, this does not last for a day, this is real and it is ongoing. In its purest and simplest sense this is democracy because students have the muscle to see their ideas become a reality. At Smart School Councils we are working to develop their model into something applicable to all stages of education and any school regardless of its pupil demographic.

Eton wouldn’t hold a mock election; there would be no point, and not just because they’d all vote Tory. Britain’s public schools teach something different, a culture of entitlement in the extreme and that from day one their pupils possess an ability to make real change in the world into which they step whether that is politics, commerce or law and an entitlement to the best jobs. While this is undoubtedly a vice of excess, the ideology entrenched by events such as a mock election is equally a vice of deficiency and young people can do better than that, they can make real, positive and democratic change to their schools and communities before they go on to further education or employment and confidently apply these skills there. In that sense, conducting mock elections is actually quite patronising. Young people can do better and in some cases do, but these needs to be the norm not just the exception. While the Hansard Societies motives are true, the result of their project has prepared young people for what is bad about our version of democracy, not how to make it better. In 2015 we don’t need to pretend, we can teach young people how to be decisive and motivated in the real world, bridging the gap between the politicians and themselves rather than widening by a glorified version of ‘let’s pretend’ that distracts us from how we could changing the values and processes of democracy in the UK.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Olly Robinson, Fundraising Volunteer


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