It does the government a disservice to suggest that it has run out of ideas because of the sloganeering drab vacuity of the King’s speech. It can’t now disguise how fast it is being left behind, and how unattractive it is making itself to younger voters whose priorities probably converge with those of European youth rather more than UK politicians choose to admit – more of that later.
An exasperated Chris Bryant MP pointed out that it would be possible to complete the foreseen parliamentary business in two weeks, if parliament sat. Or, more accurately, if the government were to stop cutting short the weeks when it can sit.
You might argue that the claim the government has run out of ideas is disingenuous. It has certainly demonstrated ideas for further trashing public services, for playing catch up with the EU after woefully lagging behind on the potential impact of AI, and for normalising the parlous state of our sewage-strewn shorelines and rivers. It also appears to have implemented plenty of ideas, according to several of the Covid inquiry’s interviewees, for funnelling public money for PPE into rather curious channels.
Out of ideas or running scared?
True, it’s struggled to identify any credible benefits of Brexit. But give it its due: it had the idea of trying to find them. Stranded by their absence, of course, it had the idea that it would be altogether better quietly to sneak in its acceptance of sticking with EU rules when it served its interest. For example, if you really want to attract highly skilled and educated EU or international workers to the UK, it’s just confirmed that it’s necessary not to deviate (far?) from EU rules on workers, a bit like when it belatedly decided that university researchers needed to be part of the EU’s international funding programme for research and innovation known as Horizon. It’s a great pity that the same hasn’t applied to accepting the EU’s rules on trade, customs, food safety, pharmaceutical and food imports … yet.
So what do we make of the excuse?
The government is loathe to reveal all its election manifesto ‘ideas’ before the election is called. It appears to prefer to distract public attention from the barrage of damning evidence from the Covid inquiry by spouting head-grabbing nastiness. It’s but an inch away from criminalising kindness having proposed criminalising a humanitarian step like charities providing tents to the homeless.
What could it do? A rather risky approach, if it genuinely were bereft of ideas, would be to seek spiritual guidance on moral behaviour, and notions of serving the public good. It could risk seeking inspiration from the public, possibly via citizens’ assemblies around the country who are likely to demand a return to properly funding the NHS and overturning the Conservative government’s preference over the past 13 years to underfund public services under the guise of austerity, ripening them for fire-sale privatisation?
It could be bolder still and seek the views of youngsters in our schools, those in their first insecure jobs, or those trying to find their first rental homes. Maybe it is reluctant to do that as it would expose all its callous disregard of public needs and provide manna to the opposition. Or perhaps the party is scared of committing the UK to more effectively grappling with climate change, health, water and food security when Treasury coffers have been emptied by government ‘missteps’?
Do the young have a solution?
Politicians of all colours could listen and learn from what the EU’s youth forums have come up with as they forged consensus over trying to keep the planet alive. Align the UK with them. Rejoin the customs union and single market. Respect and reconcile divergent opinions to prize solutions to pressing problems for the common good.
Youth Ideas Report
The EU’s Youth Ideas Report focuses on the concerns of young voters ahead of the EU’s elections to the European Parliament in June 2024. Published in 24 languages, it is the culmination of work done by youthideas.eu and the European Youth Event (EYE2023) in Strasbourg where 8,500 young people met to share their ideas on sustaining Europe as a place of democracy and tolerance.
Heading the list of the 15 most popular ideas was a plea to safeguard the public from disinformation by requiring disinformation warnings by default to be on all news sites unless they disclose all their information sources. In short, the young do not trust media outlets to tell the truth.
“If a news site does not provide all of their sources, it would automatically be considered ‘unreliable’ … Freedom of speech is very important, but news sites and media conglomerates with thousands or even millions of followers need to be more accountable for what they publish. They need to avoid spreading disinformation, be it intentionally or unintentionally.”
They call for ethical trustworthy AI to bolster this. The EU concurs and is funding research in this field. That may be welcome but the Youth Report criticises the EU’s proposed Media Freedom Act and Digital Services Act (2022) for not going far enough to safeguard media outlets from political interference and insist on disinformation warnings. So, the report illustrates how young people can themselves act to fact-check the politicians, concluding that staying open to criticism improves how work is done as well as its potential impact: the school project Fakescape in Czechia illustrates this, and explains how to become a ‘fake news buster’.
Europe’s youth elevate the primacy of the public good
Openness and action are what young people want. They want mobility (free interrail passes for all young Europeans); and equal access to Erasmus+ (asking for it not to be used as a political football, as Hungary and the UK have done). They want to be taught about Europe in schools, about sexual health and relationships, about environmental sustainability, green education and further action to ensure a better quality of life and combat climate change. They want governments to take responsibility for this and act now.
In short, the youth report confirms that the young are community-minded: the public good matters. Politicians, take note.