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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 18:53 GMT
MPs approach the disengaged
Alicia Keys
Do we need popstars to make Parliament popular?

Parliament has attempted to reach places it doesn't normally reach with the launch of a scheme for people from black and ethnic minorities to shadow MPs from all parties.

Operation Black Vote and the Electoral Commission unveiled the initiative on Thursday in the wake of the publication of the Power Inquiry's report into the state of Britain's democracy.

The inquiry revealed that only 47% of people from black and ethnic minorities (BMEs) are likely to vote, compared to 60% of white people.

Twenty-one MPs from across the political spectrum - including Charles Clarke, Oliver Letwin and Simon Hughes - have put themselves forward as 'Parliamentary Ambassadors'.

According to Operation Black Vote the Ambassadors will seek to: "demystify the role of politicians to BME groups to both vote and play an active part in politics."

Youth group

Many of the MPs present at the shadow scheme's launch went on to attend a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss youth, another of the major groups identified by the Power Inquiry as being disengaged from politics.

One suggestion in the inquiry's report was to encourage direct discussion between MPs and young people.

Speaking in Thursday's debate Michael Foster, the Labour MP for Hastings and Rye, said: "young people are impatient to express their views, they want to, but often the traditional ways in which we allow them to get involved don't work."

Mr Foster claimed the government is "out of touch" with what has become known as the iPod generation and he underlined the importance of "Parliament [making] gestures to show that we care that youth are involved".

A recent survey by the Hansard Society's Y-Vote/Y-Not group found a majority of youth, "want politicians to address them in a language which they could understand and to talk to them directly, not just during times of elections."

But Sadiq Kahn, MP for Tooting, complained that it is only popstars like Alicia Keys that attract youth attention on political issues as he alluded to the hugely popular benefit concerts staged by pop and roll stars the world over.

Bridget Prentice, Labour MP for Lewisham East, referred to the Power Inquiry's suggestion of reducing the voting and candidacy age to 16, saying: "government is keeping this decision in active consideration".

She also spoke of projects where youth are directly involving themselves in the political arena such as the newly established Young Citizens Panel in Wales, where approximately 300 young people discuss current issues affecting them.



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