Are young people interested in politics? An important question as they are the future. We still need to work on increasing the number of politically active young people, as shown by Labour shadow cabinet member Ivan Lewis. I think young people are actually more interested in public issues and current affairs than is commonly supposed.
Being political is much more than attending CLP meetings, or simply voting, it is beyond senior politicians, and most certainly beyond Westminster. Young people get into politics in different ways – it may be campaigning on issues, signing a petition, talking on the Labour doorstep, or even blogging. Today social media like Twitter or Facebook works not only by organising and increasing awareness but also by actively engaging young people’s interest in politics. This is important as politics needs to be representative, accessible and diverse, thus enabling young people to get involved and so make a positive and meaningful difference.
While voting may traditionally be the formal way for young people to participate in politics, it is most certainly not the only way. Although voting is crucially important, there are many other ways to get involved. In fact, one of the many ways young people are politically active is through local and national campaigns. Young people care about a wide range of issues – apprenticeships, the financial cost of higher education, payday lenders, wages, or the cost of housing. The list goes on. Issues are at the heart of campaigns, and campaigns act as a vital tool in making real difference, empowering and mobilising the disengaged and so creating a community spirit.
Having campaigned on such issues both locally and nationally, from apprenticeships to payday lenders, I am passionate about getting young people involved in politics, and have seen the positive impact young people can truly make.
Clearly, some have turned away from electoral politics, but it would be wrong to conclude all young people have done so. Rather, young people have moved elsewhere to express their political voice, through membership of various other organisations, participating in rallies or protests, such as those over tuition fees. Young people have become far more engaged with issues directly relevant to their everyday lives.
To engage more young people, ongoing dialogue is essential, and not only in the run-up to local or general elections – but all year round. Politics goes beyond the ballot box, hence it is our duty, and of those in power, to make politics seem relevant to people’s everyday life. At a party political level, Labour must be seen as empowering youth activists, providing opportunities both locally and nationally, where young people can run their own projects or campaigns.
What more can be done? Elected representatives are very good at engaging with schools and colleges locally but we must increase the number of opportunities, so that young people can get directly involved in the political process. That may be, for example through local opportunities, like shadowing your local councillor or MP or setting up a summer programme where young people can gain direct practical experience of the political process. Young people can be reached anywhere – from the internet, to local community groups, schools, colleges and universities.
With the 2015 general election fast approaching, we need to rally as much support and be more creative than ever before. Young people are talented and have various innovative ideas, and so engaging them should be just as much of a priority. Politics is about making a real difference in society, and I believe young people are the key to the future, for the whole Labour movement – progressive politics should just as much involve focusing on the needs of future generations.
Let’s be more creative when exploring methods of recruiting and make politics even more accessible, so more young people feel as if their voices are truly heard, and their concerns better understood. It is crucial we provide them with the necessary platform to express themselves, and give them the chance to discuss and act on current issues. I believe people, issues and collective change is what keeps politics personable and real. I truly believe in the power of people, and that everyone has the power to make a difference in politics – whether locally, nationally, or internationally.
Roxana Andrusca is co-chair of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Young Labour. She tweets @RoxanaAndrusca