Growing up as a young person in Britain is not easy. We are often referred to as the apathetic generation and in most cases, the generation that is not worth engaging with because we are less likely to vote. 


Enter Mete Coban, Labour Councillor for Stoke Newington and CEO of the youth organisation My Life My Say, who wants to change all of that.

Since the referendum result, My Life My Say (MLMS) have been working tirelessly across the youth sector to try and secure the best possible Brexit deal for young people — who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union.

(Patrick): Firstly, what were the reasons behind you starting MLMS?

(Mete): One of the main reasons why we started MLMS was because we wanted to create a platform where young citizens can address their issues without necessarily feeling the need to attach themselves to a political party or ideology. We thought that it was important to have a politically neutral organisation, as young people are constantly developing their ideas with learning and experiences and it would be unfair to label them if they were unsure about where they stand. Another key reason for starting MLMS is because we wanted to tackle the issue of voter apathy and find solutions to evolving relationships between young people and decision-makers.

MLMS are the main organisation behind the Stephen Kinnock-chaired APPG on a Better Brexit for Young People. Realistically, what do you hope to achieve from the APPG? 

We hope to influence the negotiations in a positive way for young citizens. We have already had positive engagement with the Department for Exiting the EU as MLMS and the European Commission. The approach we are taking is an evidence-based one through the APPG research conducted by the LSE, which will hopefully add value to the consultation work being carried out by the relevant authorities.

For young people especially, what are some of the challenges they will face in a post-Brexit landscape?

The ability to travel, study or train abroad is one that will undoubtedly affect young citizens in the UK. We are still not sure whether the UK Government will continue its membership of the Erasmus+ scheme beyond 2020 but we are hoping that they will commit to it, as there are other countries outside of the EU such as Turkey which are part of the scheme.

MLMS have recently teamed up with Bite the Ballot on the ‘DeCafe’ project, encouraging political discourse in coffee shops up and down the country. What do you hope to achieve with this project in both the long and short terms?

Our partnership with Bite the Ballot on the DeCafe project first began in the run-up to the 2015 General Elections, where we successfully ran a few events in London encouraging young citizens to register to vote and turn up in the election. Since then, we have worked together with BTB to develop our own Brexit Cafe brand as part of our mission to secure a better Brexit for young people and are now collaborating with BTB in the run-up to the general election. Our aim is to engage young citizens in our democracy by creating a unique safe-space environment where politics can be fun and relatable to the issues that matter most. We hope to increase awareness about upcoming and future elections, as well as using the DeCafe model as a hub for structured dialogue.

Voting in elections is obviously important for young people. But do you think there needs to be more fundamental structural change(s) to our political system to reinvigorate or strengthen our democracy?

Yes, I think there are a couple of changes that need to be made to our political system in order to strengthen our democracy if we want to engage with citizens. Firstly, we must revisit the electoral voting system which alienates a lot of citizens who feel that their votes would be wasted. We saw in the EU Referendum how people felt more empowered with their vote and naturally we saw an increase in voter turnout. And secondly, we either need to make voting more accessible, i.e., online voting, or need to look at making polling day a public holiday, or even change the election day to a Sunday where more people would have time to go and vote. Another option can also be to make more polling stations available to citizens who have to travel to work and find it hard to visit their local polling station on the day of the vote.

Why do you think it is sometimes hard to encourage young people to vote — or even engage — in our political system?

This is because there is a big disconnect between the term ‘politics’ and issues. Of course, young people care about issues that affect them but it’s about whether they see politics as a vehicle to address those issues, and there are a lot of underlying factors to the reason why they don’t see politics as a vehicle to address those issues. It all comes down to education. If we can find a way to educate our young people in schools about how politics impacts their day-to-day lives, I strongly believe that you will see a change in civic engagement among young citizens.

At the Creative Collisions conference, you said that Barrack Obama was one of your political heroes. But isn’t Obama part of the problem? Promising hope and change for young people, but instead delivering as President more of the same?

I don’t think Obama is part of the problem. His election as the President by itself is a massive symbol of hope and change for young people. Moreover, he demonstrated that he was a bold president by introducing policies that others would not have dared to bring to the table, i.e., Obama Health Care or climate change measures.

On your Twitter it says you were a scout for both Arsenal and Southampton. Do you agree with Jeremy Corbyn, who recently spoke to football fans at a Libertines gig, that big clubs need to invest more in grassroots football across the country? 

Yes, I do. This is so important if we want to produce good quality football players. Most European countries including Germany, France, Spain and Italy have amazing grassroots facilities to the standards of some professional academies in England.

However, I also think that the FA should use the money that it gains from charging clubs, managers and players to reinvest that into grassroots football.

Can Labour win the election on June 8?

Of course! People love the manifesto because it offers hope and change at a time of real uncertainty and seven years of austerity, which has squeezed so many ordinary citizens. The question is whether there is enough time to convince the number of people you need to win an election, but there has been a massive surge of support for Labour since the manifesto was announced.

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