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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 21:54 GMT
Youth Parliament rebrands politics
James Scroggie (left), Michelle Blow, Lisa Matthews, Rebecca Davies
Shaping the politics of the future: MYPs
By BBC News Online's Dominic Bailey

Politicians living by the rule of never working "with children or animals" had better watch out.

While animals - in the form of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease - may be dominating the headlines, but the UK's first Youth Parliament (UKYP) is sitting this weekend and its members are on a mission to be heard.

The government has promised to consider the nine-point manifesto the 215 Members of the Youth Parliament (MYPs) put together during a three-day sitting in central London.

We want to remove the stereotypical image of young people as miscreants

Torbay MYP
Chris Bamford, 17
The buzz of youthful energy which filled the Cumberland Hotel with the arrival of delegates on Friday suggests members are going to put that pledge to the test.

'Young politicians' and 'youth parliament' may conjure images of a teenage William Hague addressing Margaret Thatcher's Tory party conference, but these delegates offer a fresh look.

The delegates, aged between 11 and 18, are a mix of backgrounds, race, culture, ability and, most importantly to some, style.

Signing up: MYPs will attend workshops on a range of issues
Leicestershire MYP Ben Reeve, 11, is the youngest delegate at the conference, and will not be able to vote for another seven years.

But he has an old head on young shoulders and holds forthright opinions on the prime minister, government, euro and his role as an MYP.

He told BBC News Online: "Eleven-year-olds are the future generation and we should be able to have what we want because we are going to be around longer than our parents."

But Ben's enthusiasm to "change some things" does not necessarily mean a career in politics is on the cards.

"I want to be a computer scientist and a DJ at weekends," he said before wandering off "to check out the hall's PA system".

Ben Reeve
Youngest delegate Ben Reeve wants to be a weekend DJ
The weekend will involve debates and workshops concerning subjects such as women's issues, children's rights, working with the media and devolution, before the apolitical manifesto is formally presented to ministers.

Ministers can be certain the manifesto will not be a wish-list of childish idealism.

Most of the MYPs are driven by the opportunity to be the voice of their peers, and to help create a political awareness to break down voter apathy among young people.

Real issues

Jake Geer, 15 , decided to stand as MYP for Hampshire to get better youth facilities in his area.

He said: "I'd like to get the minimum wage for people aged 16 plus, for example, rather than 18 plus.

"Another aim is also to get young people to vote when they get to voting age."

Welshpool MYP Nick Morgan
Nick Morgan: Perhaps every UK school should help a poor country
Croydon MYP Maria-Teresa Blair, 17, - "definitely no relation" - is keen to push for women and children's issues.

She said: "When I get to 30-something and have my 2.4 kids, I'm going to be thinking about what sort of procedures are in place to keep them safe.

"We're trying to make something that will be with us for some time."

The opening session in the hotel's conference hall - decked out with disco lights, café tables and bowls of sweets - seemed more like the Brit awards than a political conference.

Co-chairman of the UKYP Steering Group, James Moody, now too old to be an MYP at the age of 19, wished the delegates luck in taking on the project he has spent three years helping nurture to life.

Andrew Rowe MP and Malcolm Wicks MP
Ministers have pledged to listen to the youth parliament
He said: "The UKYP is committed to getting all young people actively participating in the democratic process.

"It is not just about young people who naturally talk well but those who don't usually get a say. What's the point of having a voice if it doesn't get heard?"

Delegates cheered James' speech excitedly and whooped politely as they waited for "the adults" to finish before they could start on their own brand of politics.

The Lifelong Learning Minister, Malcolm Wicks, Conservative MP Andrew Rowe and former Tory candidate for London Mayor, Steve Norris, offered their congratulations to delegates and pledged their future support.

Croydon MYP Maria-Teresa Blair
Maria-Teresa Blair: I knew the name would cause me problems
Mr Wicks said it was an exciting and important project that would challenge the government and all political parties to take them seriously.

He said: "The young people are going to be taking it seriously so it is up to the adults to do so too.

"The test is for them to come up with ideas that will force older people to take them seriously."

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See also:

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Youth Parliament 'will shape UK'
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