Politics has too often wronged the people, but it has also been wronged by them through a reputation that says it’s nothing more than ‘dirty laundry’

 

If you want to get the youth involved with politics, Westminster is the place to do it. Shout Out UK and Peace Organisation hosted an event yesterday that attracted young people from around London, with the objective of continuing a discussion about their involvement in politics.

The evening began with a panel discussion, with the five speakers introducing themselves and describing how they got into politics. They gave some interesting snapshots into the early days of their careers. Bob Blackman MP (Conservative Party) confessed that he was terribly shy at school, reassuring the audience that confidence should not be a barrier to being a politician. Kirsty Blackman (SNP) said that she was motivated by the feeling that she was helping people. This set the tone for the evening.

The audience was not afraid of asking direct and sincere questions, and the panel answered them directly, which was greatly appreciated by an audience that felt frustrated with the tendency of politicians to evade questions. Connor Hill, MYP (Member of Youth Parliament) for Dudley, emphasised the importance of young people feeling that they had a voice, and made a convincing argument for reducing the voting age to 16.

The youth that Connor represents want politicians to forget their media training and talk to people sincerely, which is not easy because MPs seem so inaccessible to most teenagers. Making herself as accessible as possible is something that Alexandra Paterson, Leader of Conservative Future, takes very seriously, although she did get a giggle from the audience when she mentioned that the roof of her shop-front office had just fallen in!

Charlotte Hill, CEO of Step Up To Serve, spoke passionately and engagingly about how young people could make the changes they wish to see in politics, and in Westminster in particular. This led to an interesting discussion of Prime Minister’s Questions. Alexandra Paterson made the point that we are the only country in the world that is able to exercise democracy in this way, whereas Kirsty Blackman pragmatically argued that nothing is really achieved in PMQs.

Of course, PMQs is about debate and argument, but this is the generation of Twitter and Facebook, where information is delivered and received instantly. Young people do not engage with long-winded debates, preferring snippets of information and drawing quick conclusions. It thus became clear that the challenge faced by organisations such as Shout Out UK and Step Up To Serve, whose purpose is to help young people feel politically empowered, is perhaps more difficult than ever before. The generation gap is notable not only in political opinions, but also in the way that the young communicate, meaning that parties have to develop marketing strategies to help engage young people.

The problem however, is that most young people do not want to be susceptible to the ploys of marketeers. They only want to be well-informed and educated about what goes on in Westminster. The silence that followed Connor’s question, ‘who here has learned about paying taxes at school?’ summed it up. These particular teenagers are more politically aware than their peers; the majority of 14-19 year-olds do not seek out information about politics because it has such a bad reputation.

In order for the reputation of politics to change, the practice of politics itself needs to change. This can be done by attracting bright young things like the teenagers at the conference; it can be done by lowering the voting age to 16 so that young people are encouraged to learn more about politics; but most potently of all, it can be done by bringing politics into the classroom, so that young people feel they are a part of the society they live in, and feel that they can make a difference.

By Emily Hall