At a Conservative Future event recently I was asked to outline why young people should stand for council. This, initially, seemed a peculiar argument to put to CF – they are the largest political youth organisation in the UK and surely need no persuasion to be politically active. On second thoughts, however, even CF may need some persuading. There is a big difference between being a local activist or party supporter and becoming a councillor. It is important to remember too that young people affiliated to a political party are a rare breed.
Young people are – and always have been – political, but the politics of youth is often one of gut reaction single issue movements, not what can be seen as the more sober and cautious atmosphere of party politics.
What we as a party need to show young people is that they have been given a real place in local politics. Young people, perhaps more than any other group, spend a lot of time in their local area. They have not yet started families, taken on mortgages or bought cars. Their lives, therefore, revolve around bus routes, pubs, cinemas, cycle paths and parks.
Who knows better about what works and what needs improving in our local areas? Not only this; young people enjoy the larger networks of friends that one often sees diminish as family lives take over. Access to these networks means that younger people can have a head start in building the momentum for local campaigns for their community, or running for office.
It is vital, then, in my opinion that more young people stand for council. The average age of most councils tends to lean toward the mature. This is quite right of course. It is important to have councillors who have run businesses, taught in schools, worked in hospitals and dealt with local authorities. It is also important, however, to have young people represented on their councils – and their flair and enthusiasm for grassroots campaigning can be a real boost to council and community activity.
Now is the time for this to happen. The localism act has handed more powers to councillors than ever before. Councils are no longer being hamstrung by central government targets but have real powers to make the right decisions for their area. Young people do not have to sit on the sidelines and feel helpless in the face of authority. They can become part of that authority and help shape their area around the priorities of their peers.
The community right to bid and the community right to challenge, both founded in the Localism Act, mean that a community has power it never had before. Whether as a group, a resident or a back bench councillors, more can be achieved for the benefit of the community now than ever before.
The chance to change the local community for the better, to see new facilities delivered or to improve how they are delivered are all now achievable by local people. Councillors and community activists also quickly learn the art of debating, negotiation, communicating, decision making and team work are all good life skills to develop. Indeed, to be able to describe the challenges of an election campaign, to be thrown into public speaking and to negotiate local government legislation also covers most questions presented in any future career interview situation.
This is a message then to young people who want to help their local area and in doing so help themselves. You can. You should. Get out there and stand.