Young people and parliamentary politics; an oxymoron? Well last night I had the pleasure of attending a parliamentary event organised for young people by the rightfully acclaimed youth Czar Dawn Butler and the Minister of State for Transport, Sadiq Khan. Now for various reasons I had a slightly residual cynicism in terms of this attempt to convert the youth into Homo Politicus and then join in collective reverence of my MP for Brent South .
Firstly, regardless of Dawn’s ability I have a an unstable commitment and faith in our representative system. The appalling ideological homogeneity of the major parties allied with a plethora of institutional anomalies such as the horrifically biased electoral system and the weak and intermittent requirements for popular participation, have all played their part in undermining Parliaments democratic capacity.
In terms of Dawn herself, despite a distinct absence of duck houses and wisteria themed horticulture, she was heavily embroiled in the expenses scandal and is very vulnerable (when the electoral boundaries change this year) to the smallest and youngest MP, the superbly active and passionate Sarah Teather. This event was however a wonderful representation of Brent’s plurality- officially the most ethnically diverse constituency in the UK. Listening to political debate and indulgently grazing on the abundance of mini rolls and bakewell tarts, were an extraordinary variety of young people. Given an unconditional, open and warm invitation to politics they grabbed it with both hands. Of course there were representatives of NGO’s who like myself wished to gain Dawns ear, but primarily the event helped to demystify Parliament, making it familiar and approachable. Many of the young people had never been there before and the grandeur, overwhelming political significance and the strongly elitist undertones of Parliament made some reserved and apprehensive. But this event changed that. Everyone there was encouraged to view it as theirs- the primary component and symbol of OUR democratic system, accountable and responsive both to our political disposition and involvement. Though by its very nature, those who attended were those most sympathetic to further political engagement, the event made me even more confident about the potential for youth engagement in politics. If irreverent teenagers from inner city Brent, immaculately presented and aggressively opinionated prospective counsellors as well as pushy charitable representatives can grab such an opportunity to get involved then take all the time possible (including on the underground platform on the way home) to discuss how we can improve Brent, then we are getting somewhere. Somewhere where our political involvement is not just valued, but expected.