This is the column I wrote for the Manchester Evening News which appeared on today's Viewpoints page:
Many friends think I was mad to get involved in politics at a young age, but in fact it was inevitable after the Iraq War. I felt strongly that the action being taken in my name was completely immoral, and I wanted to find a way to voice my opposition. In Manchester, effective opposition came only from the Liberal Democrats. When I joined the Lib Dems and started meeting politicians for the first time I saw the positive impact politics could have; particularly at a local level. I saw how politicians can change an area for the better, and how standing up for individuals to faceless organisations like the Council makes a real difference to people’s quality of life. My involvement also showed other areas that need fixing in our system and ways to improve my local area. This is what encouraged me to stand for the Council.
We all see that our political system is broken and tired. In Manchester’s recent local elections people showed exactly what they thought of politics... by staying at home! Just one in four Mancunians cast a vote in May - in some areas it was even worse. Young people are proportionally much more likely not to vote - maybe because they recognise that the current system is rotten! Young people and the population in general care about the same issues: people feel their opinions don't count and that politics is too dominated by parties and vested interests. But perhaps young people feel this more acutely.
When I was elected Manchester's youngest ever Councillor the vast majority of people were very supportive and saw it as a positive move. There were of course some people (not all in other parties) who thought the idea of a 20 year old Councillor was absurd. They forget that Councillors are elected to represent the whole population. A 20 year old councillor is just as capable of representing a 70 year old constituent as the reverse situation.
I have now done the job for two years, and I still believe as strongly in the positive impact politics can have. However I am often frustrated that the system we have is so tribal and hidden from the public. Last week, I tried to make it possible for the public to directly question Council bosses at Committee meetings. This idea went down like a lead balloon - established councillors dismissed it as a stunt. They thought that allowing a Public Question time was farcical and that they should only consider it when there were no opposition Councillors! Incidents like this make me see why so many people are turned off by politics.
There is so much mudslinging in politics that all politicians come out looking bad. Most people find it hard to tell the differences between the parties and for some nothing changes whoever is in power. With so many parents not voting is it any wonder why young people don’t feel motivated to go and vote. However it would be wrong to suggest young people don’t care about political issues as movements like Make Poverty History and Occupy have demonstrated.
In parts of Manchester you can get elected by the logo on the ballot slip without speaking to a single voter. That is plain wrong. We need some form of proportional representation at national as well as local level so that every vote counts. Politicians must be less remote and talk a common language. There is no excuse for a Politician not to have at least some form of Social Media presence.
If young people are given more information about politics they will question more and get involved in changing it. We need to put more value on Citizenship classes, and we also need to see voting as a key transition into adulthood. Should we consider sending out information on voter registration and how to vote to 15 year olds with their NI cards? Over half of 17 to 25 year olds were not even registered to vote in the last General Election.
We should also start to encourage Young People to get involved in Politics at an early age. Youth Councils and Youth MPs should be given a real voice and power to challenge. We should lower the voting age to 16. Because at sixteen you can work, pay tax, have sex, get married, and join the army, yet you can't have a say in the way the country is run. A lot of talented young people don’t see politics as an accessible career and this needs to change.
We also need to have a serious think about how we conduct our voting. How many people didn’t vote in May because they didn’t know there was an election on or because the polling station closed before they could get to it? For that matter why can we only vote in polling stations? When we can manage our finances securely by laptop or mobile, why shouldn’t we vote that way too?
I am Chair of the Communities Scrutiny Committee and in the Autumn we are going to look at why voter turnout was so low and how to involve more people in the democratic system. I would be really interested to hear your views on how we can boost voter turnout and improve our political system whatever your age or background. Please send me any suggestions to email@example.com or via Twitter @Chorlton_Victor or write to me via Manchester Town Hall, M60 2LA.