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The worldwide toxification of politics and your duty as citizens

An explanation of why government matters and how to learn about it given to 14-year-olds who will soon be voting citizens.


Presented 30 June 2023. Posted 4 July 2023.

I regularly speak to teenage school pupils, arranged by the charity Speakers for Schools.

Last week, I gave two talks at Didsbury High School in Manchester. The first was a repeat of one I have given before. However the second, given to students aged about 14 was new.

The school asked me to speak about the toxification of politics. I assume this was based on seeing my 2018 article "The toxification of politics threatens us all". I decided to widen the topic since in a few years time these students will be citizens, and they need to understand why government is important and how to undertake their duty as citizens of a democracy.

The paradoxical point in my presentation is that if you want to understand the UK's Constitution properly, you should begin by studying the USA's Constitution.

I recorded the talk and you can watch it below.


Presentation outline

Video of my presentation


How the presentation was recorded

My first presentation recording was done on the spur of the moment, just putting my iPhone 6 on the table and relying on its built in microphone. See my page Lecture: The Quran recognises religious freedom.

Once I found recording presentations worthwhile, I purchased a high quality Sennheiser digital lapel microphone which plugs into the lightning port of my iPhone. That produces a much better recording.

The slides

I am happy to share the original PowerPoint slide presentation.

A partial transcript of the question and answer session

The question and answer session was also recorded. However, I am not publishing the full audio recording for two main reasons:

  1. While the sound quality of my responses is very clear, the questioners were some distance from the microphone. Accordingly, in many cases their questions are almost inaudible.
  2. I respect the privacy of those asking the questions. I do not have their written consent to publish their recordings. In many cases, I do not even know who they were, so cannot seek permission.

Instead, I have listened to the Q&A session and, where I regard the questions as being worth sharing, have written down a condensed version of the questions. I have then published the audio of my answers.

1. What role do you think that social media has played in the rise of populism?

Recording of my 2½-minute answer

2. How does one distinguish between good information and bad information on social media?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

3. How worried should we be about the potential return of Donald Trump as US President?

Recording of my 1-minute answer

4. In the past people have drifted to the right in politics as they grew older. Why do you think this is, and will this pattern continue?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

5. Although you are a Liberal Democrat, as you will appreciate in Parliament we run basically a two-party system. Is that still fit for purpose?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

My answer mentions the IFS Annual Lecture given by Baroness Minouche Shafik on 6 September 2022 (speaking from memory I wrongly said October) with the title "What we owe each other: A new social contract". The lecture was recorded and you can watch it below.

The slide I refer to in my answer is shown at time 19:17 and shows which countries spend the most on education. The social mobility slide at 31:49 is also quite eye-catching.

The question from Lord (Gus) O'Donnell and the answer from Minouche Shafik that I mention is at 1:01:28.

At 50:56 you can see me ask my own question!

6. Could you explain what proportional representation is, as opposed to “first past the post”?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

My answer describes the alternative vote system because I wanted to keep the explanation simple given the short time available. This system is applied to electing a single person in an election.

The alternative vote system does not guarantee a proportional result for the country as a whole. If you want the number of MPs each party gets elected matches its share of the overall vote you need either a top-up system like Germany or the single transferable vote system in multi-member constituencies.

7. If the people of Russia don’t like Vladimir Putin, do you think that they could revolt?

Recording of my 1½-minute answer

8. What do you think is the best and worst case scenario for the next general election? And linked to that, would Keir Starmer be the Prime Minister that Britain needs?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

9. Do you disagree with Brexit and why?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

In my answer, I mention my 2012 article "The Euro – Conception, Complications & Prognosis".

10. When it comes to the distribution of political information to the public, do you believe that organisations like the BBC should have a moral obligation to be politically unbiased, or do you believe there should be space in the media for opinion pieces?

Recording of my 1½-minute answer

During my answer I recommend that if they pay for just one newspaper, the students should subscribe to The Economist. See my 2012 article “Success tip: Read "The Economist"”.

11. What country do you think is the best governed, and why?

Recording of my 1-minute answer

12. You said earlier that Donald Trump represents the worst 30% of Republican supporters. What have these people done for you to describe them as the worst?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

In my answer I emphasise that many people in the 30% of Republicans that I am referring to do not believe in evolution. I suggest reading my 2013 article "The theory of evolution and religious texts".

13. Did the end of the Cold War result in a backlash for the West because of what it did to the Russian mindset when it comes to politics?

Recording of my 2½-minute answer


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