THE BLOG
18/11/2013 12:42 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Are Young People Bothered With Politics?

More than nine million people have now watched Jeremy Paxman's Russell Brand interview on YouTube. In the 48 hours after that interview went out, my facebook and twitter feeds were saturated with likes, retweets and comments, not about X-Factor rejects or Bake-off triumphs but about Newsnight. I even overheard a group of teenage girls on the tube, probably not much older than thirteen or fourteen discussing at length, Paxman being 'boyed off' by Russell Brand.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with Brand's call-for-a-revolution speech, the point I'm making is this - young people DO care about politics. Brand's anti-politics rant struck a chord with young people because he echoed the underlying feeling of a generation frustrated with a political system that they feel 'doesn't represent or care about them'. But that doesn't mean they don't care about the way the country is run and the decisions that affect their lives.

Russell Brand has been accused of being a dangerous influence on young people by encouraging them not to vote. I say give young people more credit. Far from being apathetic about politics, young people want their voices to be heard, and thanks to social media they have more ways to speak out than ever before.

Want to tweet David Cameron? Well you can. And he might even read what you have to say. Think that's too simplistic and naïve? We've seen political revolutions start and dictatorships end with the help of social media.

Every month on Free Speech, BBC Three's topical debate show for young people, I feed in live twitter responses from people watching at home, on issues decided by them, and put them directly to people in positions of power and influence. Young people are speaking out and politicians are listening. It's a small step but a significant one.

And it gets even bigger than that. Over the past four months, nearly half a million young people in the UK have been singling out the issues that matter most to them for the Youth Parliament initiative called Make your Mark. The five issues that came out on top were voting at 16, youth unemployment, work experience, the national curriculum and bullying.

Those issues have been turned into short YouTube videos fronted by myself, Rick Edwards, Dan Howell, Jameela Jamil and Will Best, all designed to help set up the debate around them, and this week, Parliament Week, every single secondary school in the country is being invited to download the Create the Debate videos and supporting resource pack to get debating.

It will be the biggest action of youth democracy in the UK, with one of the five topics going forward to be the lead UK Youth Parliament campaign of 2014. And just looking at the five topics which were selected by teenagers themselves shows just how politically engaged young people are.

If you want proof of how passionate they are, tune in to Free Speech on Wednesday to watch an audience of young people take over Westminster Hall to debate voter apathy and long term unemployment. Whilst it might not make the headlines like a revolution speech from Russell would, it will silence any critic that says young people aren't interested in politics.

Free Speech, live from Westminster Hall on Wednesday 20 November at 8pm on BBC Three

Follow Parliament Week on @parliament_week or go to www.parliamentweek.org