Youth is promised a voice, but will it again be silenced by the bureaucrats?
Teenagers will vote soon for their own Youth MP in what is being hailed as a new deal, but Conrad Landin, at 17, has seen it all before
WE are at the beginning of a new age of youth politics, or so the Town Hall’s press officers would have us think. For next month will see the election of a youth MP for the borough, and the borough’s teens will “have a voice”.
And yet, haven’t we been here before? Indeed, this is the third relaunch of young representation in Camden in only four years.
I’ll declare my interest: I was elected to Camden’s first-ever youth council three years ago. The establishment of this body was the main achievement of the previous year’s Youth MPs, and was lauded by the then Lib Dem-Tory council as an expansion of representation and democracy.
Now, ironically, council officials claim the decision to abandon borough-wide youth council elections and replace them with three representatives on the nationwide UK Youth Parliament (the ineffectiveness of this organisation was why there was such a desire for a Camden-specific body) comes from the current youth council itself.
The process has come full circle, as if the council had decided its experiment in democracy was a silly mistake.
Any long-standing New Journal reader will be familiar with the troubles of Camden’s previous experiments in youth representation.
There were frequent accusations of bureaucratic obstruction to the projects young people tried to pursue. The power to decide how the budget (£100,000 from from council coffers) would be spent was only gained after the young cabinet threatened to collectively resign.
As the council’s Speaker, I witnessed many become disillusioned with the possibility of making any difference at all. Squabbles where backward-looking civil servants seemed to feel threatened by the possibility of young people exercising any power were like something out of Yes, Minister.
Following an external review of the youth council (albeit one criticised for laying the blame primarily with the young people involved) one would hope things have moved on constructively. But in the year since the second generation of young councillors took office, several members have admitted that nothing has been achieved.
A youth worker I spoke to could not cite any accomplishment bar setting up the new parliamentary-style structure – effectively abolishing their own democratic framework.
Is this really comparable with the numerous capital projects, the banning of the Mosquito high-pitched deterrent and widely-publicised debates sending messages on issues from tuition fees to knife crime to tuition fees, which characterised the first term?
Perhaps this is because since the second elections, the youth council’s activities have had next to no coverage in the local press. It is a sad indictment of the Camden officials that the young people dealt with that necessary work would only get done if an issue received extensive press coverage.
But if there is to be any change to the culture of conflict and obstruction which has been dominant so far, the body must, at least, be taken seriously.
And sadly, this seems a distant prospect.
So call me disillusioned, but I can’t see what is effectively a step backwards to the structure in place three years ago marking a breakthrough for young people’s democracy.
Only when the borough shows a genuine commitment to recruiting strong, serious and passionate young people and providing them with adequate full-time support – and accepts their sovereignty in areas they are told they can improve – will it be anything more than the gimmick it was intended to be from the start.