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Young, gifted and democratic: getting young people involved in democratic processes

Mehvash Ahmad, a UK Youth Facilitator, summarised a Parliament Week 2015 event hosted by John Penrose for Youth Ambassadors for democracy.

Mehvash Anmad talking to other youth ambassadors at the Parliament Week event.
Mehvash Anmad talking to other youth ambassadors at the Parliament Week event.

Mehvash Ahmad, Youth Ambassador and UK Youth Facilitator, summarised a Parliament Week event on 19 November 2015 hosted by John Penrose, Minister for Constitutional Reform.

Many people involved in youth politics have a similar tale to tell – getting frustrated and angry, and shouting at the TV. It’s not good for our parents’ ears but it’s a pure demonstration of the passion that so many young people feel about politics. A passion that is shared by many, but not something that many young people turn into action.

It seems it was a similar story for John Penrose, the Minister for Constitutional Reform, who recently met with youth groups at a Parliament Week event. His road to politics began by infamously shouting at the TV, frustrated by what was happening in the world around him. He wanted to make a change and decided to join a political party.

Many young people don’t have a background in politics. Only some of those involved in youth groups have experienced the raw edge of politics by being dragged to events and protests by well-meaning family members. However we all share a passion to make a change in the world and a common aim to get as many young people engaged in the process as possible. An aim shared by the minister.

The minister met with us to understand how to engage other young people in the democratic process. We’ve all carried out various initiatives such as setting up groups, starting youth cafés and engaging under-represented groups. However the majority of young people participate on their own initiative and passion and we had some amazing suggestions to the minister on how to set a similar fire in the hearts of our peers.

Politics needs to be relevant to young people so that we can clearly see how decisions made in Westminster impact us directly. As Joe Porter from UK Youth Voice emphasised “it would be great to offer activism training for all the young people who are outside of the parties”.

We want a strong call for political education so that politics is taught throughout school and not just made relevant from 18 when you have the right to vote.

We need to highlight the good work of youth organisations like Mencap, UK Youth, National Citizen Service and UK Youth Parliament that give young people a platform to have their views heard.

We also think that politicians are missing a trick when it comes to social media. It’s such a powerful tool and could be used to host online MP surgeries and facilitate discussions with well-known politicians.

The minister acknowledged that “we have moved past party politics” so let’s start rebuilding trust in the political system as more and more young people are engaging with issues that matter to them.

We really appreciated being able to speak to the minister directly about these issues. He told us how powerful it was to have initiatives from young people directly. But what happens next?

The minister explained to me that the government will be working with youth organisations like UK Youth, the electoral community and others to deliver an online academy. The academy will showcase best practice in voter engagement and registration. This could include the impact of activity delivered by youth ambassadors to engage their peers in democracy and how they have increased the number of young people on the electoral roll.

Read about championing the changemakers by John Penrose and find out more about the Youth count! democracy challenge.

Published 7 December 2015