A student-led organisation to get young people engaged in politics has launched in Greater Manchester.
Youth Politics UK held its inaugural conference at Manchester Grammar School earlier this month to outline its aims and initiate debate on topics such as Brexit.
Guest speakers included Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, ex-Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Channel 4 News Political Correspondent Michael Crick.
The organisation aims to offer members training in skills such as debating, political journalism and policy-making to arm them with the tools for political engagement.
Members under 25-years-old will become YouthPolitics Activists who can also access a database of campaigns from across the political landscape to get involved in.
Although the group claim to be non-partisan they will initiate some branded campaigns starting with a push to improve mental health support for young people.
Similar launches are set to be held in London and Bristol after Easter and then in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Swansea in the summer.
Founder and editor of Youth Politics UK Dan Lawes addressed the conference, saying: “By the end of summer we’ll have YouthPolitics Activists in nearly every constituency from across the political spectrum fighting to get their voices heard.”
He added: “I genuinely believe one voice can change a classroom.
“If it can change a classroom, it can change a school and if it can change a school, it can change a community.
“Once it can change a community it can change a city and then there’s no reason it can’t change a nation.”
LOOKING FOR CHANGE: Organiser Ben Fleming and founder Dan Lawes
Mr Lawes concluded the rousing speech by declaring: “The youth of today are often called snowflakes, but what today has proved is that if enough snowflakes come together, by god we can cause an avalanche.”
The non-profit group was born in summer 2016 out of frustration that 16 and 17-years-olds were not able to vote in the EU referendum.
The founder thanked an unnamed MP for additional motivation after he remarked: “Good luck with [Youth Politics UK], but I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere.”
— GMYCA (@youthgreatermcr) March 5, 2018
Andy Burnham’s speech outlined his belief that more change will comes from organisations like Youth Politics UK than Westminster because the latter needs reform.
He said: “Things really need to change and I think your generation is going to be the one to make that real change to the way politics is done.”
The ex-health secretary was one of the first MPs to call for the UK Youth Parliament to sit in the House of Commons, but he highlighted how Westminister have ignored them.
Burnham claimed: “Nationally, the UK Youth Parliament has voted a number of times for a curriculum for life and it’s just been ignored and in some ways that’s worse.
“To bring them to London, have them vote and still ignore it really embodies, I think, one of the problems of Westminster and particularly how it relates to young people.
“It doesn’t listen – it’s doing it for show.”
Event organisers and students Ben Fleming and James Sullivan-McHale told MM how Youth Politics UK is a “democracy to increase democracy.”
TEAMWORK: Luke Barton, Dan Lawes, Alastair Campbell and campaigns manager Amy Dunning
Mr Fleming said: “We are a non-partisan organisation but we are not apolitical, and whist that may seem like a false dichotomy, we see those as different.
“We do have factions of people who have certain political ideas, but we pride ourselves on the fact that it is diverse and it is absorbing opinions from all walks of life and political agendas.”
The organisers feels the government haven’t done enough to encourage young people to take up an interest in politics.
Ben said: “It’s a very simple cause and one would have thought that a very simple cause would have more attention towards it, but we don’t currently think there’s enough being done.”
One debated topic was the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16, but Mr Fleming believes “the problem we’ve identified lies deeper.”
The student said: “You could give people aged 16 the vote tomorrow, but it wouldn’t solve the problem we’re talking about.
“It’s not just having the ability to vote,” he added.
“It’s the ability to have an informed voice and being listened to by politicians and enhancing that democratic vote.”
You can learn more about Youth Politics UK through their website youthpolitics.org.uk and find them on Twitter @YPUK and on their Facebook page Youth Politics UK.
Andy Burnham speech analysis – Kieran Isgin
In his speech at the YouthPolitics conference, Andy Burnham presents an anti-London centric view of the UK’s political system where he states that the Westminster system is unfair to the North.
Burnham argues that London politics ignores many in the UK, most importantly, the North of England which has created “Unbalanced decision making” that puts places such as Manchester at a political and economic disadvantage.
In an almost revolutionary tone, he goes on to promote the Convention of the North happening in summer that will give people of the North the voice they need.
In lieu of this, he stated that: “If we’re going to change things from the bottom… we need the powerhouse we were promised.”
He promoted that idea that we must devolve as much as possible to create a better future for Manchester and the rest of the North.
The mayor finished the speech by saying that: “It is definitely possible to make real change happen,” and that the youth will be the sparks to ignite such a revolutionary flame.