“I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote”

The UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) held it’s 10th annual sitting at the University of Ulster last weekend.  This was the first time the Parliament had ventured out of Great Britain.  The UKYP is a UK-wide youth organisation that gives a voice to  young people aged 11-18. Through the Parliament those who can’t yet vote have a chance to influence politicians and wider society.

Members of the Youth Parliament (MYPs) are elected in every constituency and region of the UK.  In some areas elections are highly contested with over 600,000 young people voting in this year’s elections.

The sitting this year was my first.  Over 350 MYPs attended the sitting in Jordanstown, including 14 from Northern Ireland.  The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, also attended and spoke to the gathering.  I was lucky enough to be one of six chosen to have lunch with him.

The Parliament was due to hold  a headline  debate on Votes at 16. We had been campaigning on this for sometime, but the formal support of MYPs was needed.  It was during this debate that the drama began.  A girl was invited up to talk about services in her area.

It was soon clear that she had a particular axe to grind.  She began to talk about the “savage cuts” expected in the Youth Sector where she came from.  Shortly into her speech one of her friends came to the podium, uninvited, and began to stir the meeting into debating this issue instead.

The debate was being run by senior MYPs and they were more than slightly surprised by this turn of events.  They told the meeting that this new issue could not be debated at this time.  This was not popular with the Parliament, especially those from one specific region.  The supporters of the new cause became more impassioned with each second.

After about ten minutes of chaos the hall became significantly emptier.  About 30-40 of those who supported the “Peasants’ Revolt” walked out of the meeting!  This fracas was a great example of how passionate young people could be about issues affecting them.

Once the debate on Votes at 16 got going, MYPs said that effective Political Education was essential before the enfranchisement of this age group.  Others argued we could not afford it, with the current budget deficit.  Votes were cast on the issue.  Over 300 MYPs voted on the motion.  It was rejected by more than a 2/3rd majority.  The Parliament better start rewriting its policies.

The “Peasants Revolt” group then returned to the chamber to read their prepared statement.  We were told that it would be debated later, during our free time for those who were interested.  That debate would turn out to be just as interesting the first.

This voluntary debate was well attended and some very strong opinions were expressed.  The group who had walked out were very rowdy when someone spoke against them.  Some of them within were unhappy with the wording of the statement under debate.

They claimed it had been amended by the group, but that one of the leaders had simply ignored their comments.  Whether this was true or not was never revealed to the rest of us, though some kept trying to get hold of the a microphone but never succeeded.

Then at a point this smaller group walked out! Ironic to see them walk out of a meeting discussing a prior walk-out. Youth Politics in action!

In October 2009 the Youth Parliament was the first ever non-parliamentary group to sit and debate in the House of Commons.  This privilege has now been extended to us for the entire life of this Parliament and we’ll be back –  this October.

Critics might say young people have no vote, and don’t need to be listened to. But remember we pay tax in the form of VAT, and in some cases income tax.  Therefore we’re entitled to a voice.

Would you like to get involved?   The UKYP has a good website and the Northern Irish group of MYPs are coordinated by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum.

Alex Huston MYP (Belfast East)

“I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote” Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues

  • Alex, your NIYF link doesn’t appear to work. Perhaps this one will:

    http://www.niyf.org/

  • English Republic

    Do MYP’s from Ireland, Scotland and Wales debate and vote on matters that affect only England in this parliament too?

  • Comrade Stalin

    MYPs said that effective Political Education was essential before the enfranchisement of this age group

    They surely have wisdom beyond their years.

  • Indie10

    As far as I’m aware, the Sewell convention doesn’t extend to the youth parliament. So the west Lothian question doesn’t really apply.

    They all debate issues which affect the UK as a whole rather than regional issues. There are regional bodies to deal with that (Scottish youth parliament, Funky Dragon and the Northern Ireland Youth forum). Perhaps Westminster should take note.

  • Dec

    Ah, so this is where my taxes go – flying and feeding a bunch of unelected twerps and geeks around Britain and Ireland to discuss tuck shop prices and library late return fees. No-one cares what you lot think because you don’t pay tax (and don’t make me laugh about paying VAT – that’s Daddy’s cash your spending) and you don’t have a vote. Same as it ever was.

  • Danny Gillen

    UKYP is an utter joke. I was an ‘MYP’ for two years, the whole organisation was just run by youth workers, a pointless facade and waste of money.

  • Alan Maskey

    So Danny, will you return the money wasted on you? Set an example for Gerry A, Martin McG and Lord Bumside?

  • Indie10

    An MYP for two years Danny? You were obviously so aghast at the “pointless facade” that you continued in the position whilst getting ferried around the country to attend various events. Very noble.

    Then again complaining about it on slugger now makes up for it I’m sure. Good to see the morality of MYPs is on the same level as that of their expenses fiddling counterparts at westminster.

  • Brian MacAodh

    Why should taxpayers fund this organization? What an absolute waste. Too bad the “savage cuts” didn’t include this joke. They should spend their summers doing volunteer work, which would certainly be more meaningful, educational, and worthwhile for themselves and the community.

    I don’t blame the children for their participation…they don’t know any better. When they are older and have more perspective they will absolutely feel the same way, as one poster on here shows.

  • Ben

    I was an MYP several years ago and although people may point out that the organisation is a waste of tax payers money I disagree. First of all, I know of several MYP’s who have higher mandates than some of their “elected” councillors. So please dont refer to them as unelected twerps. It built my confidence up, made me a better person and got me interested in the political process – it made me study Politics at A-level and im now a youth worker assisting other MYPs and other Youth Groups. Im also a University student – granted not in the field of youth work or politics but in Geology something I probably wouldnt have done without the confidence UKYP gave me. It also made me continue to get invoilved with students unions and NUS. The organisation taught me very valuable skills – far better life skills than I would have learnt at school. Im now a much more confident, engaged and knowledgeable person after the experience. It spurred me on to take an active role in my local community and Im proud to have been a member of UKYP even now 6 years later.
    Id rather money be spent on this which actually improves the lives of the young people it engages than on pointless compulsary volunteer schemes being dreamt up by this government(who I voted for), which as good as the intentions may be will have little or no impact.

    I just thought people should know that although it costs tax payers money – it provides an invauable experience for those who are in it and those who support them. And I know the majority of the young people I work with would quite like to vote but they know their peers and understand that the voting age cant be changed for lack of political education in schools. My young people arent all liberal utopian idealists – they are realists and that fact alone gives me some faith for the future of this country.