Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission- Energising the Debate on Youth Political Participation

By Dr. Andy Mycock, University of Huddersfield

As part of its on-going commitment to promoting political activism and democratic engagement, researchers representing the Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance (C2G2) have played a leading role in the development of a Political Studies Association (PSA) project seeking to enhance youth citizenship. Gerry Stoker, Professor of Governance and Director of C2G2, and postgraduate research student, Emily Rainsford, have contributed chapters to a new volume, Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics. The publication is edited by Professor Jon Tonge (University of Liverpool) and Dr Andy Mycock (University of Huddersfield), who between 2008 and 2009 served on the independent Youth Citizenship Commission (YCC) formed by the last Labour government. The volume builds on the work of the YCC and applied research by members of the Political Studies Association and seeks to further energise debates about young people and democratic participation. The C2G2 played an important role in developing the project and publication of the volume, kindly co-sponsoring the hosting of a workshop for contributors in London in January 2014.

Contributions to the volume provide short opinion pieces on a range of youth citizenship topics and offer policy proposals to encourage governments, political parties and youth stakeholder groups across the UK to adopt more dynamic approaches to encouraging young people to get involved in politics. The volume addresses issues such as votes at 16, political participation of young women and BME groups, citizenship education in schools and universities, youth social media, and compulsory youth voting.  Policy proposals include a referendum on votes at 16, compulsory electoral registration in schools, and a call for the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament to establish an inquiry to encourage more young women to participate in politics.

Gerry Stoker’s contribution to the volume explores political citizenship and the innocence of youth. He argues that rather than despairing about the relative non-engagement of young citizens in formal politics, there is a need to recognise the positive aspects of their relative divorce from politics and their relative lack of cynicism and fatalism. Gerry suggests that young people are more open to the prospects for change and doing politics differently. A different political order could, he suggests, be stimulated by reforms such as lowering the voting age to 16 and young people’s national representative parliaments, assemblies and forums across the UK being given the right to call annual ballots or referenda on topics of their choosing.

Emily Rainsford draws on her doctoral research to identify a number of reasons why political parties are struggling to recruit young people to their ranks. She suggests that the relationship between young people and political parties is complicated but there is an urgent need to address the causes of party political disengagement. The need for new approaches to youth political party membership requires an acknowledgement that young people are adopting distinctive forms of political activism. The terms of party membership should therefore be reviewed to increase opportunities for young people to be able to influence the design of policy and develop forms of participation that reflect their interests.

The volume was discussed at a special panel at the Political Studies Association conference in Manchester on April 16th 2014. A panel of respected academics, including Gerry Stoker and Jon Tonge, discussed youth citizenship issues with representatives from the Manchester Youth Council and local schools. The panel also included Sam Johnson, a young councillor from Manchester City Council and Ian Wybron, a member of the Demos Generation Citizen project.

The volume will be officially launched at an event in Westminster in the summer and other events will be hosted in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. Chapters from the publication will also be hosted in an exciting series of on-line debates on the Democratic Audit and PSA blogs, with leading politicians, academics, and youth organisation will respond the policy proposals.

An electronic copy of the Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics volume can be downloaded here.

For further details of PSA youth citizenship events linked to the project or to ask for a hard copy of the volume, please contact Dr Andy Mycock.

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