SPECIAL REPORT: ‘As a young person politics affects everyone – if you don’t vote then you can’t influence anything’

Peter Lilley and Nicola Harris

Peter Lilley and Nicola Harris - Credit: Archant

With rumours swirling around Westminster that Prime Minister Theresa May is exploring the possibility of calling a snap general election on May 4, now has never been a better time for young people to engage with the political process – and help influence the debate.

Sam Collins

Sam Collins - Credit: Archant

Even if the PM decides against opting for a spring election, on the same day there will be local elections for Herts County Council – and many politicians and activists at various levels of politics are urging the younger generation to get involved.

With only 36 per cent of people in the 18-24 year-old category voting in last summer’s EU referendum – as opposed to the overall average of more than 70 per cent – voter apathy among young people is high, with turnout alarmingly low.

A whopping 64 per cent of teens and people in their early 20s simply did not bother to head down to a polling station or send a postal vote to cast their ballot.

Those who vote stress it isn’t about Ivory Towers and impenetrable debates about issues younger people feel have nothing to do with them because such a detachment means youngsters not having a say in politics – whether nationally or locally. It could mean the difference between deciding the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe – but also fighting local politicians deciding to remove funding for playgrounds across North Herts.

Lizzie Gull from Hitchin Girls' School at Parliament last week.

Lizzie Gull from Hitchin Girls' School at Parliament last week. - Credit: Archant

The number of people aged 20 to 24 in 2015 was 3,806,471. Yet only 492,306 applied to register to vote in the last General Election. However, not every teenager is quite so indifferent.

Lizzie Gull, 16, who excelled in Hitchin MP Peter Lilley’s schools debating competition, said: “It’s important for young people to engage in the democratic process and I will certainly be voting as soon as I can.

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“Politics is everywhere and affects everyone. If you don’t vote you can’t influence anything.”

Mr Lilley is also an advocate of encouraging young people to vote.

Labour councillor Judi Billing using her iPad

Labour councillor Judi Billing using her iPad - Credit: Archant

He said during the Comet’s trip to the Houses of Parliament: “I hope as many young people as possible go out and get involved in politics locally. I’d say – read up on what the major political parties believe in and see which you feel best reflects your own beliefs.

“Talk to councillors, write to them, ask questions, get involved. They’ll be only too happy to put you to work.”

With the local elections less than eight weeks away, North Herts youngsters are being encouraged to register to vote.

Sam Collins, who will be the Lib Dem candidate for Hitchin North, is also a passionate advocate of getting young people to vote.

The 35-year-old said: “The lack of youth involvement in politics at a local level is bad, not just for younger people but everyone – younger people need a voice.

“I hope I can be that voice at least at county council level. I’m the youngest candidate by more than 30 years, and 35 is not that young at all!”

Sam, who studied automotive engineering at university, has strong links with Formula One as an expert on motor racing technology and also presents a motor racing show on YouTube.

He has modern ideas on how to engage young people, and said: “I want to make politics a lot more accessible, use more digital resources, be more approachable.

“I was stunned to hear a councillor being criticised for using a tablet during a council session – surely communicating with people about issues they care about is a major part of a councillors job? The live coverage on social media of council debates, especially from the media, is the best way for those on the outside following what is going on. I wish there was more of it.”

Conservative councillor Nicola Harris also agreed with the need to engage young people. Ms Harris, who represents Hitchin Highbury, said: “It’s so important we try and increase the number of young people voting.”

Labour councillor Judi Billing, who regularly uses an iPad to assist with her work added: “I was slightly surprised to be told off for using an iPad in a council meeting. It was weird – as when I’m at the Local Government Association – which is a paperless organisation – that’s what we all have to do.”