GETTING through to the younger generation has always been a challenge for all politicians.
They’ve tried many tricks to appear ‘cool’ and capture the votes of the youth – from William Hague wearing a baseball cap to David Cameron telling us all to ‘hug a hoodie’.
But most efforts fail. Is it because young people are not interested in politics or the future of the country? Probably not, as many protest that they do care what happens in the world, but feel their views are not heard by out of touch politicians.
However, the United Kingdom Youth Parliament charity is hoping to change all that.
While Parliament may be all about men in suits and spin, the UKYP is led by issues rather than political point scoring.
The UKYP – which started seven years ago – has a national manifesto, based around issues that are important to young people, such as bullying, the environment and education to name a few.
UKYP groups exist all over the country and there are two in Kirklees, for north and south.
Each has an elected member of youth parliament.
Natalie North, 17, represents South Kirklees and has been in office for a year. She is passionate about equal opportunities. Joel Lawson, 15, represents North Kirklees and has been a Member of the Youth Parliament (MYP) since the movement was introduced to Kirklees three years ago. His top issues are bullying and peer pressure.
Each MYP has two deputies – Jodie Gibbons for North Kirklees and George Lane for South Kirklees.
The MYPs and their deputies work with a group, which meets weekly to discuss issues and is supported by youth worker Alice Taylor.
Natalie said: “Everybody is equal, but I represent them with my single vote at the national and regional level. We have a range of ages and ethnic groups and there’s about 14 of us, so it’s a great mix of views.”
Any young person can join the group to give ideas and input for the MYPs to take away to national and regional meetings.
Regional meetings are held in Yorkshire every six to eight weeks and there is a national sitting, where MYPs from all over the country gather for three days for debates, workshops and training.
This year’s event was held in Glasgow in July.
Kirklees YP tries to tackle issues on a local level, taking practical action instead of concentrating on discussion.
Their current manifesto covers bullying and the environment. In Kirklees, they aim to get a full-time bullying officer for the area.
The group has met senior council managers and has visited schools to gather data on the state of bullying within Kirklees. They are also arranging an anti-bullying conference.
As part of their environment campaign, the group is urging schools to introduce a ‘green day’, where money is raised to be used on an environmental project within the school.
The Kirklees YP’s second function is to get young people’s voices heard by the Government.
According to Natalie, their efforts are proving more and more successful. She has spoken with ministers and even helped launch the recent Sex and Relationships Education Report in Parliament.
She said: “We are feeding into Government more and more. Recently, Gordon Brown spoke in Parliament about giving the Youth Parliament access to the House of Commons during recess. That was quite a big breakthrough.
“We are also meeting with ministers and they are tasking into consideration what we think. Of course we also have links with our own MPs and the council.”
So, if you like the sound of being part of the UKYP, how can you get involved?
First, you need to decide if it’s the job for you. Can you take the responsibility of representing all the 11 to 18-year-olds in your area? Do you have the time to commit to the job, as well as juggling studies? You’ll also need good communication skills and the guts to take on a challenge.
If that’s you, the perfect time to get involved is now, as the election process for choosing new MYPs has just started.
Elections are held once a year at secondary and middle schools and colleges.
Anybody aged 11 to 18 can stand to be an MYP. All you have to do is register your interest by sending your name, age and address to email@example.com.
Once you have done this, you’ll be contacted and invited to a meeting of the Kirklees YP.
There you’ll film a short video and write a short manifesto, setting out why you want to me an MYP and what you think you have to offer.
The deadline for applications is the end of December – then all the videos and leaflets will be circulated to schools in Kirklees.
On February 1 2008, pupils will take a vote and the new MYPs will be elected.
Natalie will not be fighting for her seat. She plans to try for a regional advisory post with the Youth Parliament – but is also going to be grappling with university studies.
However, she recommended the experience of being an MYP.
“I didn’t know much about it until I saw a leaflet, so we are trying to raise the profile in schools. I was interested but didn’t expect to get elected. When I was elected,I was really happy but in the deep end a little.
“It is hard work trying to fit in different stuff. But it has given me opportunities to try so many different things. It is fun but it also has a really serious element to it.”
She is also keen to encourage people to join the Kirklees YP group, even if they do not want to stand as an MYP.
“There is only a small group of us, so sometimes opportunities get missed because different things are available to different people. We could do so much more if there were more of us.”
For more information about Kirklees YP, visit email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Alice Taylor on 07743613428 or 01484 223369.