Around 120 students as young as 14 from five schools across Long Eaton grilled three Erewash parliamentary candidates at a politics event at Trent College this month. Maggie Throup (Con), Catherine Atkinson (Lab) and Martin Garnett (Lib Dem) took questions and sparked debate on a range of issues affecting young people, from the living wage, tuition fees, enterprise, training and apprenticeships and school funding to more general issues including public services provision, housing and immigration.
According to an Ipsos Mori poll, 44 percent of 18-24-year-olds voted at the 2010 election – fewer than any other age group. By contrast over three-quarters of over-65s voted. In response to this, a group of Trent College sixth-form students organised the event as a means of encouraging more young people to vote.
Peter Nathanail, 17 from Bramcote, was one of the organisers and acted as moderator for evening. He said: “At the moment a lot of young people aren’t voting or engaging with politics in the way that would necessarily be beneficial for the country and themselves if they did.
‘Even for longer-term decisions, we are going to be living through them and paying the taxes to fund these things that will affect us so it seems only sensible we have a say right from the start. I hope that events like this which expose young people to candidates and their differing views can only be a good thing for trying to increase the number of people who vote, whether for the first time at this election or once they turn 18 in the future.”
The event was part of Trent College’s whole school programme designed to prepare students for adult life and to recognise the positive role they can play in shaping society both now and into the future.
One of the key messages from the evening was that it is not scary to go and vote, and the process of going to a polling station was explained. The three candidates also explained what they were doing in their pre-election campaigning to try to engage more with young people, such as talking to teenagers at local schools and youth groups and listening to their concerns.
There was a warning, however, that politicians will typically take most seriously the views of those people who are actually voting and influencing the outcomes of elections, so if young people want to make their voice count they need to vote.
Dominic Kalantary (18), from Long Eaton, was also part of organising the event. He said: “We’ve seen from many recent elections that young people aren’t really engaged in politics as a whole compared to other demographics in society. The whole aim of the evening was to try to get young people really interested in what is coming up on 7 May.”
Bill Penty, head of Trent College, added: “It was great to see our students recognise the issue of disenfranchised young people and taking responsibility to try to do something about it locally by organising this event. It was a fascinating evening with some interesting views and challenges from the floor so well done to all.”