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Politics has this ageist air about it, almost engrained and encoded into its very nature that makes it hard for young people to be even close to that ‘sacred’ inner circle. Sure, young people are given invitations to events and are preached at from every angle from prospecting and established politicians, but they can’t change much. They are voices with no decibels, yet with a growing audience eager to hear their story.
I’m a young person, so I truly speak from experience within this subject. In fact, I’m typing this very article whilst sat in a little insulated (and power-socket laden) corner of the Conservative Party Conference 2016 – the national conference for the biggest and ruling political party of the British Parliament. I was invited here to courteously represent the young people of the country, in a place where the average age of the attendant exceeds 50 years old, and the average income is more than quadruple that of my council-estate upbringing. I’m a fish in the political shark tank.
Or, so it appears. On face value, I’m the youngest here. On face value, I’m the only attendant wearing trainers (sneakers for you American folk), I’m the only attendee with a gauged earlobe, and I’m attendee with the longest hair on a male. I’m a sort of non-conformist in this tank, really different from the pin-suit, slick-haired guys around me. I specifically said guys there, because, well, about ¾ of the attendees are male. On face value, I’m probably one of the poorest people here – stemming from a council estate ‘up north’, I’m different. I’m a fish in this political shark tank.
As I sat through hours of conference speeches being beamed live to the country, these thoughts couldn’t help themselves and only manifested. Originally, I was going to keep quiet. Just shut up and get on, but I couldn’t. Because why should I? If indeed I am a fish within this shark tank, surely that makes me unique? Surely, that gives me a platform unique to those around me, and makes my words worthy of at least thought. So think about this; if I am a mere fish amongst sharks here, surely I’m succeeding? Surely I’ve stood up to the subjugating factors of a young person, defying the people who reject my presence.
I’m here as a young person, yes, but not just that. I’m here as the ‘next generation’ of young person; of non-conformist appearance, of differing background, of disadvantage. I’m here as someone who, based on ideological functioning alone, shouldn’t be here. After all, this event is sort of aimed at the wealthy upper class, the white male living in a traditional nuclear family, the man with aspirations for an economically stable future and a secure one at that. Yes, I really am a fish here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t make a splash.
Young people in today’s British society are continually shut down over who they are as a label; one gang crime in London can have a profound impact of the elder generation’s view of ‘us’, despite the fact we may live 300+ miles away. One story of a school failing and young people rejecting its guidance can rub off badly on the rest, and we’re branded ‘lazy’, ‘worthless’ and ‘uninspired’. We’re separated into a belief of no hope, of no prosperity. Now, some sink at that. Some face that hurdle and fall. Sadly, some feel no motivation to push further, to turn that last corner on the road of success of to shine that proverbial candle in the darkest of rooms. We live in a society that can be so continually degrading and harsh that some lose their perseverance.
But they shouldn’t. We shouldn’t. Whilst my painting of this conference has at thus been negative, almost ignorant, I argue the opposite. Yes, the demographic is as I explained above – but it’s changing. From last year, more females are in attendance. From last year, more groups of young people are coming to witness the public inner workings of their government. From last year, more minorities spanning sexual orientation, identity, ethnicity and physical ability are in attendance. If there’s one key message I need to get across about the metaphoric fish tank around me, it’s that it’s changing. There are more fish and fewer sharks. No longer is this an ocean of hierarchy and economic dominance, it is one of individual value and endurance. Whilst I speak on behalf of an attendee at the Conservative conference, I know this to resound across all political parties in the UK. Where there was once ignorance and rejection, there is now change. There has never been a better position for young people in politics.
If you still don’t believe me, and still hold onto the gloom and misery of my first descriptions, know some things about the British government and politics; currently, there is a national programme aimed specifically at youth political engagement. Labelled individually as ‘Members of Youth Parliament’, these pioneers in youth engagement are given the highest political platform of them all; a recognised and televised debate in the House of Commons in London. Young people from across the country, from the poorest of families to the richest of corporations, are brought together as equals. There is no class divide within these brilliant minds, only ideological policy splits. There is a common goal of success, of perseverance, and of greatness. These are values that truly make the difference to a young person.
So, to any young British readers reading through this, take one thing away; whilst times can be hard and opinions can be demeaning, know your worth. Know your growing value. Pave your own pathway and everything you could want will come to you. For me, my story has been tough. To get from being a kid in a council estate surrounded by drug crime and gang affiliations, to representing every young person in the country and speaking with Ministers and the Prime Minister, was hard. There is no illusion about that, but it’s possible. I’m not elite and I’m not better than you. I just realised the potential in me, which is in you.
So, whilst I am a fish in the political shark tank, and whilst we all are to some extent, things are changing. We are the next generation of this country, of the world, and with our own push for success, we will make it equal.