On 7 May, the day of the general election, Lewis Campbell will be just 19 years and 1 day old. That’ll make him one of the UK’s youngest prospective parliamentary candidates (PPC). Ever.
Campbell is the Green Party’s PPC for Dunfermline and West Fife in Scotland, and took time out from his busy schedule so we could pick his brains. He explains how he first got into politics (aged nine!), and why there needs to be more role models in politics - full stop.
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How did you get into politics?
My Dad once stood as a Lib Dem candidate. In fact, I remember canvassing for him on my ninth birthday, the same day as the 2005 election. Perhaps living with an endangered species is what triggered my environmental conscience!
Since then, we've had the referendum in Scotland in which people from all walks of life, including people as young as myself (and even younger!), became engaged and informed. I think it's important that we keep that engagement as much as we possibly can.
Why did you decide to run?
In Scotland, we experienced a Green surge after the referendum. Our membership is now close to 9000! At this time, we were thinking about candidates for the general election and so I emailed the Fife branch secretary and said I would like to find out more about it. Alas, my email seems to have been lost amongst a sea of other emails and I never heard back. Then, the Fife branch had it's selection meeting, I remember it well because I'd just finished my uni exams for the semester that day, so I was in an optimistic mood. It was here that I put my name forward to become a candidate, and the members that were present voted for me.
Do you think there needs to be more political role models for young people?
There needs to be more role models in politics full stop! So many politicians are seen to be untrustworthy, out of touch and self-serving. Voter apathy, which is rife amongst young people poses a real threat to democracy. This apathy is why young people are treated unfairly by successive governments - politicians can get away with whatever they like! It is therefore clear to me that we need role models in politics - people who understand us and actually care - if we are serious about encouraging people to vote.
Do you think young people feel excluded from politics?
In Scotland, young people seem much more engaged in politics than elsewhere in the UK because they became engaged during the referendum. I think politicians are deliberately trying to make people feel excluded from politics. In Scotland, we are in the absurd position where some young people who were able to vote in the referendum, cannot vote in the general election. One of the ways people are being turned off is because of the negativity coming from the main parties. The Tory campaign strategist, Lynton Crosby, was actually previously involved in Australian politics, which due to compulsory voting, means that negative campaigning doesn't turn people off.
Another reason people are turned off from politics is because they feel that politicians do not represent them. This is true. Overwhelmingly, MPs are white, middle/upper class, heterosexual males. This is not representative of the population and so there is a disconnect in some demographics. Young people are particularly turned off because neither of the two main parties seem to care about young people. I think the reason for this is that young people don't vote in the same numbers as older generations.
Should schools teach young people about politics/voting?
Schools absolutely should teach people about politics and voting. This would stop the confusion that some politicians seem to enjoy creating as people would be able to tell what half-truths and omissions are occurring. The confusion that surrounds politics is and the muddying of the water that politicians take part in is only helping to blacken public discourse. Politicians should be telling the truth and being clear about things. In Scotland, Labour are telling us "vote SNP get Tories". The fact that they are getting away with such a blatant lie clearly shows that people do need to be educated about politics.
What do you think of the current portrayal of young voters?
The accusations that voters are apathetic as a result of laziness is nonsense. Not only are young people not typically lazy as I know from being a young person, but they are not apathetic either. While it is true that young people are less likely to vote, they still care about political issues! We clearly saw that young people are prepared to get engaged in large numbers when it matters during the Scottish referendum campaign.
Do you think politicians need to do more to engage young people?
Politicians do need to engage young people - but young people also need to select politicians who are going to do that. We need to vote for politicians who are clear about things, politicians who have policies which are good for ourselves, but also for everyone else. After all, nobody exists as a solitary entity, we are part of communities and we should take that into account.