Youth politics in a toxic atmosphere

In which Anna McGovern, the Chair of Medway Youth Council, looks at the challenges and abuse that have become all too common in our politics..

Politics has changed. It is not just about making a “difference” anymore; it is a slandering competition on who can score the most “party political” points. I have seen this myself, locally and nationally – and it only seems to be getting worse. 

It is not only the “political activists” of Twitter subject to daily abuse, offline and online, for following a certain ideology. It is not only the local councillors who have to deal with being under permanent scrutiny for every action they make, whilst balancing full-time careers, family life and other personal affairs. 

More than ever, young people are the demographic being subject to pertinent abuse. Young people being abused by young people. Young people being abused by adults, who surely should know better. There are so many cases of online (and offline) abuse I could name which could account to multiple articles in their own right. My point is that abuse in politics is so common nowadays that it overshadows what politics in itself should be about: making a difference locally and nationally.

I, myself, have been the recipient of disparaging perusal; far more than any previous Chair has ever had to deal with. I believe that with the developments in technology and the rise in the usage of social media platforms, you can post what you want, whenever you want, behind the safety net of a digital screen. Fortunately, I am strong enough to not let this affect me; but I know many young people may not be able to deal with this. 

When a Twitter dispute broke out online between past and present Medway Youth Council members, and local youth party activists, lasting right up to the early hours of the morning, I realised how profound this issue is in today’s society. Nothing is achieved from online “spats”; shoving your opinions down someone’s throat to the point of a vast escalation. This was a learning experience for all of us; myself and our youth workers included. We put measures in place to educate our young people in how to deal with situations of this nature so, should they occur again, they would know what to do. Although no one should have to experience this – the reality is that it does happen, so we, therefore, must equip them in the best way possible to be able to deal with this. It is so easy to get caught up with what other people are saying about you and your actions, but you should not rise above it. 

If you widen the scope nationally, there are even more serious cases of abuse that Members of Parliament have had to deal with. 

Eighteen female Members of Parliament have stood down from their positions – many of whom due to the significant abuse they have been subjected to within their parliamentary terms. 

The chief executive of the Fawcett Society, Sam Smethers, stated that “We have to confront the fact that our toxic politics is driving good women MPs away. In 2019 it is still a hostile environment for women,” further adding how politics is “going backwards”. The MP for Liverpool Riverside, Louise Ellman, agreed how she was not surprised that female MPs were standing down from their positions. She spoke out on how “Politics has become increasingly personalised and abusive and I’m not surprised that many women MPs have decided they don’t want to be a part of it.”. 

If you are still in doubt whether this is really true – you only have to take a look at these very telling comments on the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon… 

Being elected Chair of the Medway Youth Council has opened my eyes to a broad range of issues within my local community and on a national scale. It is an incredible opportunity to have that platform and be that point of direction for our members in making a difference in the issues they care about most. 

Representing Medway as their Member of UK Youth Parliament allows me to independently represent them and their views, ensuring that they have a voice brought forward in national conventions hosted by the British Youth Council. At the beginning of the academic term, the Medway Youth Council facilitated a national ballot vote called “Make Your Mark” which provides young people with the opportunity to have their say on which issues they would like to see debated in Parliament. When I represent Medway in the UK Youth Parliament’s debate in the Houses of Commons on Friday 8th November, we will be discussing which two of the top five Make Your Mark issues should be made into national campaigns. 

Within my role as Chair and UK Youth Parliament representative, I hold a non-voting membership position of the Medway Council’s Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee. This has delved me right into local issues, ensuring that young people have a voice in the items discussed which affect them directly. This requires scrutinising extensive reports and flagging up any issues I see before the meeting, which I would raise when appropriate to the committee in attendance. 

Joining the Medway Youth Council one year ago has changed my life forever. Although I am very actively engaged in politics, I am not a member of any political party outside of my role as Chair. Right now, I do not believe that there is any particular party that wholly represents my views and values at the moment; perhaps that will change in time, but right now I enjoy solely working to improve the lives of young people locally and nationally.

I was the first elected female Chair in over five years within the Youth Council. More than ever, we have an even more diverse group of young people involved in our Youth Council making a difference in their local communities. I encourage anyone, no matter what background you come from, to put yourself forward to new opportunities, do something you feel passionate about, and to never stop believing in yourself.

Politics is like a double-edged sword; there are massive positives and significant downsides to it. Constructively challenge and persuade; do not delve into abusive and back-handed comments. Act on what you believe in; do not force individuals to believe in your way of thinking.

Be the force of change.

Anna McGovern is the Chair of the Medway Youth Council and serves as a Member of UK Youth Parliament for Medway. She is in her final year of A Levels at Rochester Independent College, and she is passionate in making a difference to other people’s lives locally and nationally. You can be kept updated on her work on Twitter and Instagram.

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