The other election debate

30 April 2010 at 4:22 pm 1 comment

Emily Pitts writes:

Another Nick captured the imagination this Wednesday of a 16+ audience at Downside Fisher Youth Club in Bermondsey, where I work as a volunteer, as the Lib Dems came out on top in a mock ballot and election debate for young people. The evening event was intended to engage young people in politics. Many feel ignored by politicians and question the point of voting. Parliamentary candidates for Bermondsey and Old Southwark – Val Shawcross (Labour), Loanna Morrison (Conservative) and Nick Stanton (Leader of Southwark Council, standing in for Simon Hughes) spoke to the 50 strong audience, answering the question ‘Why should I vote?’ and taking questions.

The audience enjoyed having the opportunity to meet the candidates and question them on the matters closest to their hearts. Leon Bruff, who’s 21, said “You don’t think you’ll be able to have a proper conversation with people in politics and actually get them to listen, but tonight showed me that’s not true. It was a really great opportunity, something that doesn’t happen every day.”

Questions covered a range of issues, from crime and punishment to housing provision and funding for further education. But the issue that came through most strongly was employment and access to jobs. There were several questions about lack of jobs in the area and some sharp criticism of the lack of opportunities available for young people even after they’ve achieved qualifications and training. There were suggestions of new green technologies creating jobs under the Lib Dems, Crossrail related jobs from Labour, and tax breaks for small businesses from Conservatives. I’m not sure how satisfied the young people felt by these answers – their reality is much more immediate than suggestions of potential future jobs in industries that don’t yet exist. They did, however, feel empowered by getting their point across and ensuring that whoever ends up as the area’s MP is well aware of the priority of their new voting generation.

In a way, this was probably the point that came through most strongly – a strong desire to be heard and taken seriously rather than just lumped into a ‘tough kids on the streets’ stereotype. Nick Stanton talked about lowering the voting age to 16, which went down well, of course. David, who’s 16, said “He [Nick] was talking to us as young people and he listened to us. The voting age should definitely be lowered to 16 – we are the new generation. We should all have the opportunity to be heard.” And judging by the turnout on the night and the energetic questioning, the young people of Bermondsey do want to get involved. The question is whether the political parties will find ways to let them.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Trying it on The long drift from the two party system

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