Is it time for All Under-25 Shortlists?

In the 1992 General Election, the turnout of 18-25 year old voters was 60%. By 2010, this had dropped to 44% – despite significant efforts by campaigning organisations to reverse the declining trend. In current polling, only 24% of young people have said they are certain to vote in the 2015 General Election.

It’s a disturbing trend, and one that could fundamentally undermine our system of democratic representation.

At TEDxHousesOfParliament this year, Rick Edwards put forward a clear and strong case to change how we engage young people – like me – in political activity, and specifically, in voting. He put forward 5 solutions to turn young person democratic participation on its head.

  1. Online voting
  2. Compulsory voting for first-time voters
  3. A “None of the above” option on ballots
  4. Access to information
  5. We need more Jogees

The last suggestion needs some explanation. Adam Jogee is a local councillor that’s recently been elected to Haringey Council. What’s unusual about him, is that he’s under 25.

The reason that young people don’t vote – so the theory goes – is because they don’t identify with the people they see in the political establishment, and those in the establishment don’t try appealing to them. Young people would engage with politics more if politicians were more like young people. Or specifically, if they were young people. If there were more Adam Jogees.

This is great in theory, but in practice, it’s far more complicated. It’s great to suggest that young people should be standing for elections, and winning, but you don’t just win an election on youth and and a good platform for young people. Aside from a few outliers who campaign on very niche issues, you don’t get elected, or even short listed, unless you have party machinery behind you. Young people, realistically, don’t have much hope of being short listed; there’s too high a barrier for entry. And even if you ignored the short-listing, and tried to run without party machinery, it’s an uphill battle against candidates with far more money and far greater automatic support from habitual partisan alignment. The system is set up to stop new entrants.

Young people are competing against older people “with more experience” and that have the battle scars to prove it. Those older candidates deserve their places more, they say, based on some wonky value system based on no real evidence or quantifiable measure. There would be more young people in Parliament if there were more good young people to be in Parliament. Right? Right?!

Stop me if this sounds familiar. Because these are the kinds of arguments that are levelled when people say there aren’t enough women in Parliament. And one way parties have chosen to address that argument, is the introduction of all-women short lists (AWS).

Regardless of your views about the long term acceptability of AWS, it’s hard to deny that they are effective in rebalancing representation for women in Parliament; after all, there’s no choice but to elect a woman.

So, if representation of young people is an issue that is as big as that of women – and proportionally, with the average age of an MP being 50, perhaps it’s an even bigger – then isn’t it about time we were a little radical, and introduced an All Under-25 short list in some of our most densely populated areas of young voters? Radical idea? Yes. Workable? Absolutely.

Maybe it’s about time parties had these short lists, and made commitments to go out and find young people in target communities. Not just leaving it to the odd individuals that from a young age decide that they want to be career politicians – because they won’t be the ones that change anything – but role models in our communities that might genuinely shake up the system.

Because actually, we, as young people aren’t disinterested in politics, and there’s no such thing as apathy. We’re simply disengaged with a conversation that isn’t about us and disillusioned with policies that affected us but on which our opinion feels discounted.

And it might not be the solution we need long term, but as a sticking plaster to get young people back engaged with politics, it’s probably a good place to start.