One day a year, Crawley Young Persons Council throws open the doors of the Town Hall and invites schools in for a series of workshops on a range of topics relevant to young people, culminating in a Question Time-style event at the end. I have been on the Question Time panel for these since my second year on the council (although, I actually attended my first one as a student at Holy Trinity) and I have always found the questions to show a great deal of insight.
This year’s event took place today and in addition to being signed-up for the panel, I was asked to run a workshop on politics. As a politician, it’s always a privilege to have the opportunity to speak with young citizens and it’s important not to abuse it by acting in a crass party political way, particularly when you’re not jointly presenting with a member of an opposing party. Yet, there are several points I’m always very keen to get across: when young people don’t vote it encourages politicians not care about their issues or opinions, that their opinions do matter, and that as elected representatives they are our bosses and we’re open to persuasion.
It’s not a hard message to put across, but with all the cynicism in the world today it is hard to know if you’ve managed to have it take root in just a 50 minute slot. However, what became very clear was that they did have strong opinions on most of the major political issues of the day, even if they didn’t feel confident that their opinions were of any significance. The way I know this is that aside from a brief introduction and conclusion, I gave them the space to vote and debate on some of the most major political issues in the UK today and to plan a campaign around an issue which mattered to them. They didn’t disappoint.
When we discuss the low turnout of young people at elections we tend to debate ourselves in circles over how we can get them interested in politics, but it seems clear to me that at least as many young citizens are interested in political questions as their older counterparts, what they lack is confidence and if we want them to develop it we need to give them greater opportunities to debate and explore for themselves the major issues of the day, to develop that confidence in what they really believe and why.