Talking about ‘young people’ as an entity or a group is something that I find misleading, and I struggle to feel genuine when using the phrase. It implies that an issue that is important to one young person is important to them all; this will never be true of any demographic on a given topic. Nevertheless, the UpRising national youth debate that I attended at Queen Mary’s University showed me that although we are a diverse array of people, we are often united in the issues that rile us up and ignite political passion.
The 11 different UpRising debates held across the UK, did not feature the same candidates and MPs, or even the same questions, but brought together hundreds of young people between the ages of 16-24 to challenge political leaders on issues that are important to our generation. The London debate brought together candidates and MPs from a range of political parties.
Predictably, the Conservative and Labour candidates often resorted to reciting the party line. I can’t speak for other audience members; but I must confess I was not impressed. The most engaging moments from the panel were when candidates stepped away from their prescribed answers and spoke honestly, which happened sporadically and came mainly from the smaller party candidates. Notably, and refreshingly, the Lib Dem candidate also spoke his mind directly on some subjects.
What really struck me about the whole evening were the issues that garnered the biggest response from the 16-24 year olds in the audience. Especially the questions asked once the floor had been opened. When asked about environmental issues the Green candidate was the only panel member to denounce fracking – initiating a burst of applause from the floor.
Questions were thrown at the panel concerning the rise of anti-Semitism, youth unemployment, economic disparity in the UK and the selling of arms to human rights abusing countries. I was overwhelmed by the focus on inequality throughout UK society. These were the issues that the young people in London cared most about – and they did not let the politicians talk their way out of answering their questions. Any hint of an off-topic tangent prompted rumbles of disapproval that swept across the audience.
The most significant moment of the evening, for me, came when a deaf member of the audience stood and directed a question to the panel about barriers for disabled people in society. There was silence as the question was signed and translated for hearing members of the audience and, when he finished, the auditorium gave its biggest and most enthusiastic applause of the night. I don’t like to generalise, but what I took from this is that these ‘young people’ care – not only about issues that affect them directly, but about inequality on many levels.
Politics is personal: it’s about individuals, the experiences we face on a day to day basis and the empathy we feel for each other. We won’t vote for the ‘party line’ or for faceless career politicians arguing in soundbites; we will vote to combat inequality and give hope for the future back to the younger generation, as those before us have failed to do.
For more information on the action/2015 campaign and youth click here. The action/2015 Youth Panel is co-facilitated by British Youth Council, BOND, Islamic Relief, Progressio and Restless Development and Y Care International.