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.