Gemma Worrell would be better served to tell politicians what they’re doing wrong then any of the chino-wearing young politicos hobnobbing around Westminster. Photo: Getty
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Calling Gemma Worrall a “dumb bitch” doesn’t change the fact that young people feel ignored

When it comes to voter turnout, the UK has one of the largest gaps between young and old. Is it a surprise young people don't get involved with politics when a simple faux-pas in a tweet can cause such hate?

If you tweet something stupid, and no one is around to read it, will it make a dent in the public consciousness? The answer is usually no, as anyone who has been unfortunate enough to peruse the underbelly of Twitter for more than three seconds will well know. Unfortunately for 20 year-old Blackpool native Gemma Worrall, however, people were actually around to read it, and thus her brief foray into the world of current affairs in the form of the spur-of-the-moment tweet “if barruca barner is our president why is he getting involved with Russia, scary” was retweeted thousands of times. Naturally, a worldwide piss-taking has ensued.

The derision and condescension that Worrall has faced does not reflect well on any of its participants. Much of the abuse she has faced has been sexist or misogynistic, comments such as “why are the dumbest girls so fit”, “stupid cow”, “dumb bitch” and “you just keep working on being pretty Gemma and leave the thinking to people with brains”. It’s impossible to know whether her “barruca” statement would have gone equally viral had it been made by an Orc-like male of the same age, but we suspect not. Twitter is a hilarious lambasting tool when used against the powerful – see the ceaselessly funny “Ed Balls” gaffe or the PM’s recent attempts at telecommunications portraiture – but when it’s used against members of the general public who might not be as worldly as the Twitterati, then it just makes the baying crowd look like a bag of dicks.

One of the standout remarks to be made from this saga is that anyone is remotely surprised that this level of political ignorance exists (perhaps everyone else’s Facebook timelines are populated by PhD-touting members of the left wing intelligentsia?). If you think that this is a mistake writing home about, then sorry, your social group just isn’t wide enough, and you need to climb down from your ivory penthouse. It’s astounding how some politicians seem baffled by this country’s political apathy, when evidence of it is all around us, if you bother to look. Which none of them do. Some might say that the blissful ignorance of the unwashed masses is somewhat convenient for them.

In an interview with the Mail, Worrell said: “People are telling me to ‘Go back to school’, but even at school we never learned about politics and current affairs.” It’s a small comment in what amounts to a rather long article about the impact the Twitterstorm has had on Worrell and her family (incidentally, her nan is really upset. We hope you’re all proud of yourselves), but it’s an important point.

Everyone has gaps in their knowledge. Admittedly, these are not always gaps as large as not properly knowing the identity of the leader of the free world, but gaps they are nonetheless. Whether it’s mispronouncing a word that you’ve only ever seen written down or thinking Denmark is an island off the coast of Britain, people make mistakes, often. Having met a staggering number of people who believe this country uses proportional representation, suffice to say this is especially true of politics. People don’t know about it, because people aren’t taught about it. And unless you pick a “government and politics” module or, at a stretch, possible history A-level, then it’s a sad fact that you’re likely to leave school with very little knowledge of our political system. And, though class and family background are factors, they’re not the be all and end all. One of us recalls a trip down south for university interviews, an admission process which, applicants had been told, would require a well-rounded knowledge of national and international news. As she and her school chum sat down for the long journey south, her friend turned to her and said: “So, can you explain to me the current affairs?” She has eleven A*s at GCSE, university-educated parents, and ended up going to Oxford. Political ignorance is not class-specific.

Calling Gemma Worrall a “dumb bitch” doesn’t change the fact that the education system has, as she admits herself, essentially failed her. Sarah Vine, while praising the miracle of state education in her Daily Mail column, still admitted that she didn’t know her Kings and Queens or where Cumbria is. Some of us, perhaps due to a long held fear of being thought stupid, or thanks to the encouragement of our parents, patch up the gaps in our education ourselves. Others have got so used to being thought stupid that they just give up trying, or simply aren’t interested. Why blame them?

Those who wondered why Russell Brand’s “don’t vote” manifesto in his New Statesman guest-edit gained such popular appeal could find their answers in the nation’s “airheads”. Why participate in a system that you barely understand? To compound this, young people feel ignored. Those who say that a lack of education is not an excuse, that you should make the effort to read a newspaper and educate yourself, forget that that newspaper is more often being run and written by old men whose political in-jokes make any coverage impossible to navigate, especially not from a beginner’s perspective. Even if it does make sense to you, you realise pretty quickly that it’s not written for you. Oh, and it’s boring to boot.

When it comes to voter turnout, the UK has one of the largest gaps between young and old people. In 2010 only 44 per cent of those aged 18-24 voted. This is compared to 76 per cent of those over 65. If you’re wondering why, then you’re not looking hard enough. Those politicians interested in changing this might do well to have Gemma round for a cuppa. She’d be better served to tell you what they’re doing wrong then any of the chino-wearing young politicos hobnobbing around Westminster. Mock or ignore the politically innocent at your peril. As with many things, the answer rarely lies with those who are engaged, but with those who aren’t.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad