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Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Politicians pressed to get funky
Why vote seminar
John Denham is introduced to the audience

Politicians from across the political divide have united to make a historic pledge: they will listen to the views of young people.

The bold declaration comes in the light of resounding evidence that many 14 to 20 year olds believe MPs to be out-of-touch and, frankly, nowhere near cool enough.

Young Person's Agenda for Democracy
Clearer language
Talk to us
Listen and respond
Respect our diversity
Provide more information
Provide citizenship education
Consider lowering voting age
It was made as ministers launched a government report on young people and democracy at a cinema in London's Mayfair area.

The cinema, packed with teenagers who had contributed to the report, was filled with enthusiasm as, probably for the first time in his career, John Denham, the minister for young people, was introduced to Jerry Springer show-style whoops of approval.

As the meeting progressed, however, that initial wave of optimism was replaced by question after question pressing the politicians for something more substantial than a pledge to listen.

Indeed, an impassioned appeal from the floor for "somebody funky, somebody out there, somebody who has a bit of spunk" to light up the world of politics was perhaps the most well received contribution.

And by the end of the meeting, the whoops for Mr Denham was replaced by a measured smattering of polite applause.


The "Yvote? Ynot?" project suggests that 76% of those asked want to be taught more about politics in school.

Young people and voting meeting.
The task facing the government is stark
Many want more clarity, accuracy and accessibility from politicians, while 56% said the media must to more to make politics more interesting.

The report found that 59% of those asked have little interest in politics, that only 31% felt there is a duty to vote and that 58% had no idea who their MP was.

The report was released alongside a film and campaign manifesto put together by 60 young people from around the UK.

The film carries a pretty straightforward message - and not a new one - that Westminster is irrelevant to many young people and that politicians just don't listen.

There is the tale of the ubiquitous skateboard park created when a councillor actually did listen and an impassioned appeal from Piers Morgan, editor of The Mirror, for politicians to "get out more, get a life and be a little bit cooler".


But the bulk of the film is made up of the views of the young people - frustrated, irritated and feeling decidedly disenfranchised.

Message to the media
Make politics relevant to young people
Mix politics with entertainment
Make it cool to be interested in politics
Give relevant, accurate information, not trivia
Watching on were a handful of ministers and opposition spokespeople, all of whom solemnly promised that its contents would make them listen a little more.

"It is about saying we have all got a problem here and we have to sort it out," said Mr Denham.

"We have been talking about you, we have talking at you, but we have not often enough talked to you."

He promised to look at "imaginative ways" - including publications, raising awareness through the curriculum and working within communities - to involve the young in the political process.


Education minister Stephen Twigg said it "is important that we listen to young people and that young people have a voice but it is no good if we then ignore that voice".

The film had a clear message to MPs
Tory spokesman Charles Hendry said his party had set up a series of discussion groups to canvas the opinions of young people and that it was planning an e-mail database such views.

Liberal Democrat Matthew Green revealed that he goes to a pub of a Friday night "accompanied by a couple of young people".

The point was, he said, that as a result, other young people often gave him their views.

To be fair, Mr Green also got the biggest round of applause when he pledged to fight to lift restrictions on the minimum wage for young people and restore benefits to 16-year-olds.

Mixed feelings

And there was also approval for his appeal for the voting age to be reduced to 16.

But Baroness Scotland, a minister in the Lord Chancellor's department, suggested that some young people favour a voting age of 21. It seemed no-one in the audience knew anyone who did.

Mr Twigg vowed more "ownership for young people" and to press ahead with citizenship lessons in schools, a plan widely backed by the audience.

After the meeting, there were mixed feelings as to what had been achieved.

Danny Hobson from Oldham said it all seemed quite promising, but added: "A few of the questions were not answered or not answered properly."


But Awais Amin from Bedfordshire said the event was "poor".

"We had more constructive debates when we met in the Comedy Store in Manchester," he said. "They're very dull aren't they? There should not be such a gap between politicians and people."

Imran Buddle, also from Bedfordshire, said the MPs had "failed to grasp the fundamental point about getting the message across to young people who are excluded or marginalised."

He said not enough focus had been placed on the role the youth service can play.

But others took hope from the promise by Sam Younger, chair of electoral commission, that the commission will review lowering the voting age to 16.


Mr Denham was asked how the government would respond if the recommendation was that it should indeed be cut.

"We will have to consider it and make a decision in government, because that is what governments do," he said.

"What we must be promising is the right to take people's views seriously.

"None of us are saying we will always do what young people ask us to do. What we are promising is that if you have serious views they should be taken seriously".

You can take the politician out of Westminster - but maybe you can't take Westminster out of the politician.

See also:

28 Feb 02 | UK Politics
07 Mar 02 | UK Politics
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
22 Feb 02 | UK Politics
29 Apr 02 | dot life
15 May 00 | UK Politics
22 Mar 02 | England
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