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Around 120 students as young as 14 from five schools across Long Eaton got the chance to grill three Erewash parliamentary candidates at a special politics event held here at Trent College on Wednesday (4 March).
Maggie Throup (Con), Catherine Atkinson (Lab) and Martin Garnett (Lib Dem) took questions and sparked debate on a range of issues affecting young people from the living wage, tuition fees, enterprise, training and apprenticeships and school funding to more general issues including public services provision, housing and immigration.
According to an Ipsos Mori poll, 44% of 18-24-year-olds voted at the 2010 election - fewer than any other age group. By contrast over three-quarters of over 65s voted.
So with the national spotlight on encouraging young people to engage with the democratic process, a group of Trent College Sixth Form students organised the event with the aim to educate, inform and enthuse more young people in politics.
Peter Nathanail, student at Trent College, was one of the organisers and acted as moderator for evening. He said: “At the moment a lot of young people aren’t voting or engaging with politics in the way that would necessarily be beneficial for the country, and themselves if they did.
"Even for longer-term decisions, we are going to be living through them and paying the taxes to fund these things that will affect us so it seems only sensible we have a say right from the start. I hope by doing events like this and exposing young people to candidates and their differing views that it can only be a good thing for trying to increase the number of people that vote, whether for the first time at this election or once they turn 18 into the future.”
The event was part of Trent College’s Whole School Programme designed to give students a thorough preparation for life and to recognise the constructive, positive role they can play in shaping society both now and into the future.
One of the key messages from the evening was that it is not scary to go and vote, and the process of going to a polling station was explained as young people were urged to play their part in democracy.
The attending candidates also explained what they were doing in their pre-election campaigning to try to engage more with young people, from talking to teenagers at local schools and youth groups and listening to their concerns as opposed to second-guessing what politicians think young people want to hear.
There was a warning, however, that politicians will typically take most seriously the views of those people who are actually voting and influencing the outcomes of elections, so if young people want to make their voice count they need to vote.
Dominic Kalantary, another Trent College student, was also part of organising the event. He continued: “We’ve seen from many recent elections that young people aren’t really engaged in politics as a whole compared to other demographics in society. The whole aim of the evening was to try to get young people really interested in what is coming up on May 7.”
Mr Bill Penty, Head of Trent College, added: “It was great to see our students recognise the issue of disenfranchised young people and taking responsibility to try to do something about it locally by organising this event. It was a fascinating evening with some interesting views and challenges from the floor so well done to all.”