One of the questions we’ve had a lot lately is why we are campaigning for a Young Mayor in the 13-17 age category. To be honest when we first started looking into campaigning for a Birmingham Young Mayor many of us initially imagined someone older. We thought someone, say 18-21 or possibly even 18-25 would be the best bet for giving the young people of this city a strong voice. Many hours of research later we pretty much unanimously agreed that the existing Young Mayor models had got it right by operating in an working in under 18 age categories. This is why:
1) Under 18’s aren’t currently represented in UK politics
In the UK there are already many mechanisms in place allowing over 18 year olds a chance to get their voices heard. Once we turn 18 we can vote and put ourselves up for election. And people do. Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, for instance, was first elected as an MP at just 23. Just last year 18 year old Tom Bletsoe (of St Ives South) became the UK’s youngest Councillor. If young people really want to they can already get involved in local politics once they turn 18…but only those who are already highly engaged in local politics do. The same applies for initiatives such as Youth Parliament and Youth Councils (although to the best of my knowledge Birmingham does not have a Youth Council). They are fantastic initiatives but not well known enough, or powerful enough, to truly have a visible effect on local policy. Young people need something new.
2) It encourages engagement in a way that’s relevant to young people
Most under 18’s are not actively engaged in politics. I’m 21, I studied politics at A Level and I have only just really started to care about local politics and what it means to my community over the last year or so. Why? Because all I learnt about at school seemed to be electoral systems, QUANGOs and historic pieces of legislation. I wanted to care but, quite frankly, politics couldn’t have seemed any more irrelevant to me. I care now because I was lucky enough to hear about and apply for a place on a leadership programme that encourages participants to become actively involved in the local political field. Most people aren’t so lucky. That’s why we think we need to bring something to young people while they are still in schools that is not just about them, but for them.
3) The system works
Another reason we abandoned the idea of doing something new and campaigning for an over 18 age range is the concern that it would just recreate exiting patterns of leadership…but in younger people. We thought about how voting would work when opened up to the public and realised that organising adult elections in which only a certain age range could vote, including some under 18’s, would be costly and result, for the most part, in only politically engaged individuals standing and voting. Just like in adult mayoral elections. We want people who aren’t already involved to care and we think bringing it to schools/other under 18’s by postal and online voting is the way to do it.
4) They will truly be a Young Mayor
It’s an unfortunate fact of British society that much of your future depends on who you are at 15. If at 15 you are angry with the world around you, feel disconnected from your school and flippant about your education you are unlikely to get good GCSE’s and go on to A-Levels or college or university. Most of the people I know who failed then are still failing now. Some have moved on, found jobs that suit them and got their lives together. Too many have fallen through the cracks of society. Having a Young Mayor and their extended team in the 13-17 year old age bracket would provide local politics with someone who is actually experiencing what it is that their classmates are reacting to. As Lee Marsham, one of our campaign team, put it ‘I’m 22 and I don’t feel young’. Throughout our city’s history there’s been far too much of older people guessing what it is that under 18’s want and need. Let’s stop guessing and let them decide.