In which Jasneet Samrai shares the experience of being a young person involved in politics.
Being a young person in politics is hard. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. It’s also a rare occurrence.
Don’t get me wrong, being involved in politics is something that I really enjoy, yet as a young person it’s a system that is ultimately rigged against me. The crisis in both the lack of youth participation, and the culture within youth politics itself, is not due to a problem with my generation; instead due to a seismic failure within our own political system.
Part of the fault lies within a lack of political education. I’ve never even been taught that councils were elected, never mind that that our local elections were in May. Despite the one letter that I received from the local council, I’ve never been told about registering to vote. The simple fact is that if I wasn’t interested, and active within politics, I would have been completely ignorant to the fact that these elections were occurring.
Within Medway, this certainly seems to be the case. In an online survey that was carried out on local 16-18 year olds, only 8% of respondents said that they were aware that local elections even existed, while only 2 out of the 273 knew that they were in May. These statistics alone show that young people in Medway are simply unaware that the local elections are happening, therefore they cannot be to blame for not voting or participating in the first place.
And for those young people who do decide to get involved, the picture is so much worse. The truth is that, like me, too many people are left feeling isolated, miserable and unheard by both the public and the political structures that surround them. For those who don’t know me, I sit on the Regional Lib Dem Executive. As a result, I am often criticised and told that I shouldn’t be there, purely because of my age.
I find this gutting. When I walk into rooms my age is often the first thing that people comment on, not my qualifications or experience. One notable example of this occurring was a parliamentary candidate telling me that “I didn’t deserve hold my role because I was too young.”
This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon either, in an online poll of 14-30 year olds that are involved in politics, over half of them said that they had been discriminated against purely because of how old they were. In the same poll, just under 98% of them said that they had received derogatory comments of some kind. This poll shows the true struggle that younger members of all political parties have to face.
Issues of bullying, especially within youth politics are very well-documented. It’s something that I, and many of my friends and other cross-party activists, have experienced. There have been nights where it’s been so bad that I have been left crying on the bathroom floor whilst on the phone to another party member. Or there have been other occasions where I’ve had to get the train at night to go and support a friend who is also struggling.
One thing that makes me feel sad is that often parties fail to see bullying as a problem, or if they do acknowledge it, it is often ignored by people in authority. Having, in the past, spoken to senior figures in all mainstream political parties; they see that bullying as somewhat inevitable, along with the idea that it is always going to be the case. And within Medway, it is clearly visible- with younger Conservative, Labour, UKIP, and Lib Dem members talking about it. It is heart-breaking that young people have to face derogatory comments, hate and abuse simply as a result of their political beliefs.
The effects of this abuse can truly be devastating. I’ve seen too many people get torn apart because of it. Moreover, party disciplinary procedures often fail at resolving complaints, not only around bullying but also around key issues like internal sexual harassment of younger activists.
As if this emotional sacrifice wasn’t enough to pay, there’s also a practical one. We all struggle to find both the time and money that is required to attend events. Being a student/young person isn’t easy, we’re all incredibly poor and often struggle to make ends meet.
The simple fact of the matter is that political events are often inaccessible. Instead of holidays or nights out, we instead spend our money on conferences that cost hundreds of pounds. There have been several incidents where I’ve had to spend over a hundred pounds in one day, only to deliver leaflets in a town that I’ve never heard of before. Dinners where I’ve spent over fifty pounds on a ticket, never mind transport and the outfit that I wore. I’ve had friends that have spiralled into debt because of how much politics costs.
There are days in which I’ve had to run down hills after school so that I don’t miss a train to a meeting, or days where I’ve had to stay up until 3am writing leaflets before a deadline. Days where I often don’t have time to eat lunch because I schedule meetings with other party members during my lunch breaks.
Ultimately, young people are often unappreciated. All of this time and effort often receives little or no appreciation, it’s just viewed as something that we should be doing. This lack of regard and gratitude drives young people away from politics, despite the personal sacrifices that we make we often aren’t listened to, often viewed as ‘too young’ to have a valid opinion.
The reason that there is a shortage of young people involved politics is, as I said above, inevitably due to our broken political system failing young people. It both fails to get them involved in decision-making, and if they are involved, it fails to support them- instead being an emotional and financial drain with little or no reward.
Why would young people want to get involved in politics if this is how it is? I honestly don’t blame them for not doing so. If I’m honest sometimes I don’t even know why I still am.
Jasneet Samrai lives in Medway and is a member of the Lib Dem South East executive.