Recently, I have been reflecting on my time in politics and it has shocked me to realise how long I have stuck around for – ten years as a Conservative Party member and seven years as an elected Councillor. What has shocked me more, however, is thinking back to how few of the younger members I’ve grown up with are still actively involved.
I know plenty of young, politically interested people across all parties and they are genuinely inspiring. Many of these young members are some of the smartest people I have met – with the ideas and passion that our party’s need to reach new generations, solve new problems and that our politics would greatly benefit from.
There is a problem, however. Modern politics is ‘do or die’. I know young activists from across all of the three main parties who have had their political lives shattered because they supported the wrong person in an internal election; youngsters no older than 15 who have been on the end of strongly worded phone calls warning them to stay on message; and passionate activists who just wanted to help are finding themselves shunned simply for trying something new.
Now, I am by no means trying to say that everything young people bring to their political parties is perfect, or that they don’t bring their own unique set of problems which parties need to handle. But ultimately our movement’s will need fresh blood, new ideas and many more hard-working activists – so we cannot just shut the door on younger members.
I strongly believe no party can carry on, or even politics itself, the way it is right now. We are encouraging young people to engage in a world that is new to them, where they are only just finding their feet and looking for a place to belong, whilst also trying to hold them to unbelievable and unacceptable standards.
From the friend of mine who was scared to leave the house by a barrage of attacks after sending supportive tweets for the party she loved, to the councillor of another party who felt so intimated by an internal election he resigned from politics entirely.
Politics is obviously filled with highly-charged emotions. But we can, and should, take a measured approach when engaging with younger members. Does a 16-year-old deserve a barrage of abuse for sharing views that are still being formed in their own mind? Should doing something any other 16-year-old do deserve a public attacking?
We need more young people in politics – that is a fact. But to do so, we need to make politics a place where we don’t destroy those young people – otherwise we might look round one day and see there is nobody left.
It is incumbent on every single one of us to start looking out for the young activists in our respective parties. We can do this by making sure they have a mentor, making sure they feel comfortable, sticking up for them online and perhaps thinking first ourselves before we engage with those younger than us from opposing parties online.
The other day, my ten-year-old nephew asked me if he should become involved in politics. I had to hesitate before I could answer because I genuinely, don’t know what the right answer is.