It wasn’t long ago that the youth of Britain had been branded ‘apathetic’ and ‘disenchanted’ by politics. As recently as February 2014, an official government survey found only 31% of young people showed any kind of interest at all in how the country was being run.
There were, however, many who believed young people could indeed make a difference, and campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness and interest amongst their peers. They were evidently on the right track, seeing as in the General Elections in May this year, the British Election Study reported that more than six out of 10 young people had turned up to vote.
(from left to right: Mhairi Black, Beth Prescott, Fahma Mohamed, Kenny Imafidon)
Of the rising stars helping to bring about this change, Mhairi Black is arguably the best known. The youngest elected MP in the House of Commons, who saw her maiden speech go viral, the 21-year-old has made her name denouncing ‘outdated traditions’ in parliament and ‘out-of-touch’ governments. She is currently spearheading SNP’s drive to win over more young voters at the forthcoming Holyrood elections, and is jubilant that the referendum in Scotland now allows 16 and 17-year-olds to vote.
Another young person who voters grew familiar with in the lead up to the elections is Beth Prescott, not least due to her name becoming synonymous with the number one trending #WorkingClassTories hashtag. Impressively standing her ground as a parliamentary candidate in a strong Labour constituency at the General Elections, the 22-year-old says politics can no longer be ‘about pushing things down to people; it is about giving them a hand up whilst still protecting those who do need it most’. Still heavily involved in political campaigns, she is currently working with debt counselling charity Christians Against Poverty.
Of course, it’s not only those with career aspirations who are making their mark in the political field. Many, like 22-year-old Kenny Imafidon, have seen how it can be used to make a positive difference to communities and lives. Acquitted for a murder he did not commit (he remains the only person to take his A-Levels while in Feltham prison), he now spends his time articulating the challenges faced by young people and disadvantages communities. A firm believer in the mantra ‘if you don’t do politics, then politics will do you’, his influential The Kenny Reports has marked him out as one of the most relevant young political commentators of the moment.
Social media and the blogosphere is seeing more and more young people take to their keyboards to challenge ideas and propose new ways to tackle issues (see our slideshow below for a list of sites we found most impressive), but many are taking a far more active role in getting politicians to take note of these concerns.
One such campaigner is Bristol schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed, whose petition in change.org to encourage teachers to be better informed about female genital mutilation gained her the support of Malala Yousafzai and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and led the then education secretary Michael Gove to meet her and agree to write to all teachers in England and Wales, warning them of the dangers of FGM. Now 18, the winner of the Outstanding Young Campaigner of The Year works as a young trustee of equality charity Integrate Bristol.
All across the Internet and on a grassroots campaigning level, young people are making their voices heard. As Beth Prescott points out: ‘We don’t have to wait until we’re older to have our say. We can and should do it now. So go on. Go for it. Get involved.’