Yesterday former Labour party leader, Ed Miliband MP gave his first major public speech since stepping down to promote the Labour In campaign. He was accompanied by Alan Johnson MP. Two eminent men. Who are the other high profile faces of the EU campaign? Stuart Rose, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farrage. Where are the young? Where are the women?
As someone who was old enough to vote in the 1975 EU referendum it is a great privilege to work with young people and to hear directly from young women about issues that matter to them. Many people argue that young people are dis-interested in politics and imply that they are rather selfish and only concerned with their own well-being. I cannot say how far from the truth I find this to be.
Young women whom I encounter through Young Women's Trust, which supports and represents young women struggling on low or now pay, do indeed have concerns about their own well-being but they also have a great passion for causes, democracy and fairness. They care passionately about the environment, about equitable access to resources and services and about preserving the planet. However they are very pessimistic as to whether politics and voting for politicians that can make a difference.
I am very concerned that unless something is done urgently the turn-out amongst young people for the EU referendum will be even lower that the poor turn-out of young people (less that 50% of those aged 18-24) at the last general election (compared to over 70% of those over 65). I am concerned that unless they see people like themselves engaged in the debate they will continue to believe that their voice does not count and that EU debate is limited to older, usually male, citizens.
The independent British Future think tank (1), have proposed the creation of a Third Campaign with "the simple goal of maximising participation in the referendum and finding effective ways to spread the message that Britain has a big decision to make and that everybody should be a part of it."
"The Third Campaign should also provide guidance for schools and colleges, business, charities and other employers, on effective ways to encourage people to participate while remaining neutral on the referendum question".
I would wholeheartedly support these recommendations and sincerely hope that if someone listens and it comes to fruition, that young people and particularly young women are made very visible in the campaign. Young women don't want role models of the famous and rich - they want to see and hear people like themselves.
They want to hear politicians talking their language and about the issues that matter to them, issues like pay, working conditions, child-care, housing and transport so they can judge whether or not they think these will be better addressed within or outside EU.They also want to hear about the global issues that they care about and hear arguments about how being in or out of the EU will impact on those.
I will be encouraging young people to vote and I hope by June 23rd they will understand the importance of participating in this crucial event. The British Future report was published in January, it is now March, maybe it is already too late. I hope not.
1. How (not) to talk about Europe British Future - Sunder Katwal and Steve Ballinger