YOUNG VOICES

Parliament Week Launches With A UK-Wide Programme To Get Young People To Vote

14/11/2014 16:35 GMT | Updated 14/11/2014 16:59 GMT
David Gould via Getty Images

Politics, particularly among society's youths, has never been the subject to such levels of disillusionment as it is today.

The closer we creep towards the next general election, the more volatile the landscape looks for the major political parties. We might find ourselves in the precarious situation that, for the second time in succession, the future of the country is decided not by the ballot, but by politicians making deals behind closed doors.

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Many youths say politicians do not represent them, so it is perhaps not a surprise some will choose to follow Russell Brand down a rather dubious blind alley, and not vote at all.

Only 44% of people aged 18-24 voted in the 2010 general election. And a recent study by the electoral commission revealed that only 24% of young people said they were certain to vote at the next election, compared with 60% or above for those aged 55 or over.

With a nigh-on impossible challenge ahead, the organisers of Parliament Week – a programme of events and activities that connect people with parliamentary democracy – are hoping to turn this stubborn ship around.

Grace Rowley, the public engagement project manger at parliament, spoke to The Huffington Post UK about the aims of Parliament Week, and a shed a little light on the state of our democracy.

“I know that Parliament can sometimes seem a slightly remote place, so I hope that this week we can help to demystify what happens here and encourage people to find out more about how it affects their lives and how they can participate in our democracy,” she said.

When asked about the greatest challenges facing the task of engaging the youth vote, Grace replied the key lies in "making the connection between the work both Houses of Parliament do and people’s actual lives".

She continued: “It’s also about going to young people where they are – on social media, online, and through partner organisations we work with on Parliament Week, so that they can understand how easy it is to engage with Parliament.”

Grace went onto explain you can never be too young to get involved in politics. She remarked that around 95% of schools have school councils that work on engaging with kids from a really young age.

NUS President Toni Pearce, meanwhile, recently highlighted that students would have the power to swing the result in up to 191 constituencies, should they turn out in force. So winning the youth vote is of paramount importance.

Grace continues: “I don’t know if I believe that political engagement is decreasing, although I know that voter turnout has dropped in recent years.”

“In the run up to Parliament Week I’ve met so many young people who are passionate, vocal and really curious about politics. I think that people are choosing to engage with politics in new and diverse ways – online in particular,” she added.

So just what does trying to increase engagement among young voters involve?

We spoke to Rachel Farrington, a politics student from Brunel University who founded Voting Counts, an online resource for young adults who want to get involved with politics but wouldn't know where to start.

"I think a big problem also is that young adults often don’t see the connection between politics and their own lives. I think this could be tackled greatly with education from an issue-based perspective," she said.

"Teach basic British politics in schools, but do it from an issue-based perspective. As soon as a young person sees that what they care about is somehow linked to the politics of Westminster they can instantly relate and become more interested in what goes on there."

Rachel also played down the stereotype of young people being disinterested. She added: "Since starting the project I’ve been amazed at how many young people are actually involved in politics."

"I’ve met so many brilliant people my age and younger that are putting so much time and effort into it through organisations such as the British Youth Council, the UK Youth Parliament and Model Westminster. So I think there is a whole under-represented group of young adults who are really, really engaged."

Parliament Week began on November 14 with the sitting of the Youth Parliament. There will be over 100 events in total, coordinated by the House of Commons with support from the House of Lords.

As part of the convention, they will also be launching the “Do Democracy” social media campaign, encouraging young people to share issues important to them under the #DoDemocracy hashtag.

A host of organisations and charities will be running workshops across the UK throughout the week, hoping to better communicate the true meaning of parliamentary democracy, and how politics influences the local community.

In the face of statistics highlighting the government's failure to engage youths, Grace Rowley retains some enthusiasm.

“It’s really important that people feel more connected to Parliament and have the opportunity to explore how what happens here affects their lives. And also to show that politics can be fun!

“We’ve got events in pubs, castles, galleries – places you wouldn’t usually expect people to be talking politics. The more people actively engage with Parliament the more representative our democracy becomes, which is better for everyone.”

Parliament Week runs from November 14 to November 20, with over 100 free events taking place across the UK. Book now using the Parliament Week website.