Student Series Part 3: Teaching Tomorrow’s Citizens to Campaign for Change

Ahead of the General Election in June, young Labour members and supporters from Romford, Hornchurch, Upminster, Dagenham and Rainham give their views on campaign activities and why they think young people should be more active in politics. Here’s what they had to share…

Vera Ojokie, currently studying at theVera University of Warwick and the former Member of Youth Parliament for th London Borough of Redbridge (2014-15).

Why did you decide to get involved in student politics?

VO: By getting involved with student politics my aim was to make politics more accessible to students. My campaign slogan was “Purpose, Power and Progress” because these were, and still are, values I personally uphold. Thus, the prospect of being involved in student politics excited me as a way of perpetuating such esteems. Furthermore, my friends and family greatly encouraged me to apply for the MYP role. Notably, my teachers further motivated me to go for the role as they thought my characteristics suited; i.e. being a leader, good debater and having the aptitude to be an effective public speaker. All in all, I went for it and never regretted my decision because I loved every minute I was an MYP!

What do you think of young people’s lack of interest in politics?

VO: The lack of interest in politics in young people is a bigger issue than appreciated and recognised. 36% of young people (18-24 years old) voted in the EU referendum last year. This was almost half the number of older voters i.e. 75% of 45-54-year-olds voted. However, many young people complained about the outcome, despite, many also admitting they did not vote. The UK educational system should increasingly implement more political curriculum i.e. for secondary schools during PSHE. I was fortunate enough to have this invaluable opportunity at my secondary school and this sparked my interest in politics. Furthermore, I also got involved with my local youth council as part of the UK Youth Parliament. I think such initiatives should be created, advertised and developed as they are a phenomenal way to get young people more fascinated in politics. Finally, social media and young people go together. More political debates and discussions i.e. using hashtags can be a great starting point for evoking intrigue as well.

Why do you think young people should be at the forefront of campaigning?

VO: Politics, for me, has a massive influence and impact on society. Thus, it is key that every single person has a voice in deciding who and how political decisions are being made. Young people need to be more open-minded to and be at the forefront of politics especially as it plays a significant role in issues within their lives i.e. in educational fees and graduate employment. In essence, I feel with more young leaders in politics, ground-breaking changes in our society can commence.

Why Labour?

VO: Labour founded the NHS and it is now a world-class system that understands the importance of healthcare for all. Thus, Labour will work to save the NHS and stop the privatisation of healthcare. Most importantly, Labour aims to radically improve mental health provision, especially for young people; by prioritising investment in under-18s and making sure teachers are trained to spot problems early. This is beyond vital. Secondly, the party cares about creating opportunities for all young people. Labour will cut tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 and make sure that there is an apprenticeship for any school leaver. Finally, the choice at this upcoming election is between a Labour government or five more years of the Tories. Let’s initiate progress-Vote Labour!

Venandah Madanhi, Venandahsecond-year LLB student, has an interest in Politics, currently studying at Aston Business School.

Why did you decide to get involved in student politics?

VM: I decided to get involved in student politics through the Youth Council in my local area, called UK Youth Parliament. I mainly got involved because of a teacher, whilst I was at RSA Academy, told me that I talk too much and I could use my voice for something constructive. Prior to joining the Youth Council, I never had an interest Politics and wasn’t particularly interested in it. However, once I got into it, I realised the importance of political participation through a lot of people that I met and that’s when it dawned on me how much Politics really helps people.

What do you think of young people’s lack of interest in politics?

VM: The main reason why young people are so disenfranchised in terms of politics is very simple and it’s due to lack of representation. You don’t see young people talking about politics, you rarely see them talking to politicians. When there are, big issues affecting the economy, it is usually the older generation that are the ones talking about it. So, young people end up feeling like they can’t contribute to the narrative or feel like they aren’t able to contribute to the narrative. Therefore, the best way to get more young people involved is to highlight more young people dealing with politics, talking to politicians really asking the questions that we want to know and talking about topics that are relevant to us, rather than having middle-aged people who assume that they know what young people need. Therefore, more young people talking about politics and being actively involved.

Why do you think young people should be at the forefront of campaigning?

VM: Young people should be at the forefront of campaigning because if we don’t get actively involved then we don’t get listened to. As a result of this, we end up having to deal with the consequences of us losing our voice which leads to us being burdened with heavy university tuition fees, being burdened with closed youth clubs and youth zones, nobody to talk to in case of provisions because we’re not actually getting involved. Also, we should be at the forefront of campaigning if we want the government to change. If we want change, we need to start talking, if we want change, we need to start voting, if we want change, we need to start being activists and being as loud as we can be. Young people can easily start movements, we do it every day, it’s just that we don’t do it in Politics. That’s the main and the main reason why young people should be at the forefront of campaigning.

Do you have any advice to young people?

VM: My biggest advice for young people when picking who to vote for is to vote for the candidate who you believe in, in the sense that who for the right of young people, who’s going to protect you and who’s going to have what you need at the forefront of the way they vote. You can do this by looking online on the Government website, on the Parliament website and seeing the trends in which that particular candidate vote or seeing how they vote. This is because, during elections, a lot of people say a lot of things, promise a lot of things that they don’t really see through. However, if you check their voting record you can see what they are really about. My biggest advice is should I vote between Corbyn or May, think which candidate do I believe in, which candidate do I want to represent my voice and vote for them!

Angelica Owalepo, made headlines after Angelicabecoming her borough’s first ever Young Mayor following an election held within the Youth Council, currently studying her law degree at Oxford University, Founder of Sophire Foundation.

Why did you decide to get involved in student politics?

AO: My involvement in student politics started from taking part casually in things like my School Council. I like to make the most of all opportunities I have access to, and that’s exactly what I did. From then on, I joined the Barking & Dagenham Youth Council, and within 1 month, I was elected as the Deputy Chair of the Forum. I decided to do this because I saw a prospect for me to shape Britain’s political landscape. I didn’t come from an Eton playground or St. Paul’s girl’s school. I was an ordinary girl from a really deprived borough and I thought if this is my only chance to represent people from my area who are grossly ignored, I’ll take it. That was the beginning of my involvement in student politics. Following this, I was elected as Young Mayor, ran a few initiatives, got involved in a number of community projects and facilitated my own campaigns, etc. If there’s anything my journey indicates, it is that ‘slow and steady’ wins the race; you won’t go from to being this average teen that spends most of their time playing video games and posting on Instagram to this woke Mensa overnight. However, if you make the core issues affecting people like you – like I did – your motive to participate in student politics, whatever you do will be fruitful for the present and in the long run.

What do you think of young people’s lack of interest in politics?

AO: I find it disheartening that a lot of young people lack a substantial interest in politics. I think it’s because they feel totally powerless. It could they see so little opportunity for real change through the current political system and so they think any interest in politics would be a waste of energy.

The more you preach about how young people need to develop a greater interest in politics, the more it puts them off because it doesn’t feel like they’re making the choice for themselves and this is something we’re tired of. Young people appreciate their freedoms and do not want to be made to feel like they aren’t in control of their lives, and so, guilt-tripping or forcing our youth to be interested isn’t the right way to go.

The first thing that must change; get people who look like us to speak to us. Thinking of politics evokes negative feelings – you usually think of white, middle-aged, privileged men who all have no clue what our social group as young people is like and the challenges we face today.

I would recommend developing interest, that they join parties. I think this stops young people from being so removed from it. You stop being passive as a supporter and become a part of the politics, as opposed to someone on the side-lines. Doing this would help young people think of politics as less about voting and more about social empowerment and growth, which can only be geared by activism and a genuine interest in politics.

Why do you think young people should be at forefront of campaigning?

AO: There are endless reasons why young people should be at the forefront of campaigning, but I find that there are 3 fundamental reasons. Firstly, we have a lot more energy, and so, innovation and creativity are a given for us which is useful in the fast-paced space we are in. Due to the changing demands and structures of our society, we need creative thinkers and bright minds who a lot about the current climate and what our society is developing into. Young people have exactly the creative ideas and intellect which is required for effective change.

Besides, with young people at the forefront of campaigning, it gives us the much-needed opportunity to immerse ourselves into the real word. This way, the big bad world is not a territory that is as unfamiliar when we grow older. More importantly, when we become full adults, we’ll be less like the politicians we have now. What I mean is that we’ll have had time to practice, learn more about ourselves, make our mistakes early on and develop useful key habits and principles that will allow us to be better leaders and better people in general.

As young people, we’re a bit like a fresh canvas which should give us a lot more hope and optimism because we have much more to look forward to. This should really give every young people a huge sense of empowerment because we’re essentially fighting for our future for, after all, it’s us who will bear the long-term consequences of the actions of today. By putting youth ideas at the very heart of campaigning, it creates a massive sense of loyalty; lifetime support and alliances – not only are this good for the campaigns themselves, but it is good for us as it allows young people to develop a strong network and grow.

Why Labour?

AO: Firstly, I just really need my NHS to be saved and I’m glad that Labour wants this too. Besides that, I support Jeremy Corbyn because he is a staunch believer in democracy- as he said about politics, “it’s not a banker’s club”; “it’s a place where people are represented”. Not only this, but he is genuinely a nice person. For instance, despite the fierce savagery during the Labour leadership elections and in general politics; he refused to stoop down to making personal attacks.

As the lowest expense-claiming MP following revision of the system in the months after the MP expenses scandal, I think Corbyn comes as a breath of fresh air because he is not a hypocrite unlike other politicians who claim to care about the public, but will turn their back and rob the public of their hard-earned funds. Corbyn didn’t study PPE at Oxford unlike countless politicians; by voting him in, we are doing exactly what I’m working towards doing – changing the landscape of British politics.  I want a leader that makes politics less robotic; as well as being competent, he is at the same time humane.

I must say that I do think that Labour needs to step up though and be a party that is known for its charisma – we need energy and a better image. We need someone to instil a clear vision and direction of Labour into the hearts and mind of Britain by reinforcing Labour’s core values and aims at every opportunity. This way, more people will come to realise that Labour is standing for them and they too will stand for Labour.

Thanks to Vera, Vernandah and Angelica for their contributions, and to Christianah and Princess for organising the series. This concludes this Student Series, be sure to check out the other interviews!