London's Mayoral Candidates Snubbed Us: Couldn't You at Least Pretend You Care About Young People Like Us?

04/05/2016 08:28

Young people - they're the ones disengaged from the electoral process, bored by politics and more interested in selfies and social media, right? Er no.

As A-level students at a sixth-form college in south-east London, we have a real passion for politics and we're especially interested in the impact of policy on working-class young people. We might be unusual in our interests, but surely that's all the more reason to support us. Or so you'd think.

At the start of this year, our politics teachers created a really interesting project based around the London mayoral elections. We called it '2016 - It's Our World' to express the idea that although we're teenagers at the moment, the person who is voted into City Hall will be instrumental in creating the city in which we will work and live as young adults.

We chose four topics to focus on:

  • Housing: 'How can it be my home city if I can't afford to live here?'
  • Employment: 'I'm ambitious and want to reach the top of my career, but I'm worried that the opportunities I want aren't available'
  • Education: 'My generation will call the shots in London, but are we being prepared for our adult role?'
  • Immigration: 'We want "our" London to be a city of all the talents - but will it be?'

Over the last few months, our teachers have invited lots of experts to college to give us insight into the complexity of these topics and we've done some pretty demanding study.

And as part of that process we wanted the candidates to take part in mayoral hustings in February. So we sent invitations to each candidate from the main parties and explained about our project.

We thought we'd need to be lucky to get all of them, but surely a few.

No, not a single one accepted. Labour didn't even have the courtesy to tell us who'd they'd be sending to speak in the absence of Sadiq Khan until the afternoon of hustings day. It was a straight no from Zac Goldsmith, and so on and so. We would like to stress that the speakers the parties (eventually) sent were great, and we're grateful for their time, but it wasn't the same as having the candidates themselves.

Of course we understand that these are busy people, but what was really telling was that none of the politicians offered to visit at another time or expressed any interest in our project.

Our college has some 3,000 students on three sites. A very high proportion of us are from ethnic minorities and many are from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, we're exactly the type of young people politicians are always banging on about when they make speeches about social mobility and diversity. But somehow, when they're offered the opportunity to visit south London and actually meet us, they're busy.

Lewisham, where our college is, is a million miles away from City Hall in many ways, but in fact it's only a 15-minute cab ride from City Hall or the House of Commons. Perhaps Sadiq and Zak and the rest of them don't know that.

But we're the generation whose lives the next incumbent of City Hall will have a huge impact on. For example, if they don't do something about the shortage of affordable housing, it's us that won't be able to live in our own city.

So how does this make us feel? We think 'un-special' is the best way to put it. It makes us feel that because of who we are, where we live and who are parents are, we don't deserve the best - the exact opposite of what our college teaches us.

But, sadly, we're not really surprised - just disappointed. And fellow students, friends and family who are more cynical than us about politics just say, 'What do you expect? These people may talk the talk but they're not interested in people like us.'

We gather that loads of famous people give talks at Eton, where David Cameron was educated. Is that because they think Etonians are the leaders of tomorrow but we're not?

In fact, our college's A-level students exceed the national average grades year after year and we're full of ambition and plans for the future, so you'd better look out for us!

And next time you make a speech about how terrible it is that young people don't register to vote, we hope you'll excuse us if we turn the other ear.