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.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.