I was shocked today when I saw the BBC headline, “Under 45s should not enter politics, minister says.” I calmed down once I’d read the actual comments she made and realised that the story had been blown-up somewhat by the BBC News’ Health Reporter (as political stories often are) but it did get me to thinking about difficulties young people face when trying to enter into a new career these days.
The point that Anne Milton was trying to make, I think, is that politicians need to represent people and would be unable to do so without life experience and empathy. That said, young people have an awful lot to contribute to politics and all too often end up as the coffee-makers and RISO monkeys of the office; how are they supposed to gain the necessary experience to be taken seriously if nobody will take them seriously in the first place? This isn’t only a problem in the political world; it is relevant to all professions – more so now than ever. Throughout my adult life I’ve been fighting against a lack of experience and qualifications. I don’t get considered for jobs that I know I can do well, simply because I haven’t done them before or I don’t have a massively specific NVQ or similar. Similarly, graduates (who were once seen as great assets to a work place) are looked down on and considered to have no ‘real idea’ of how to do anything, having studied only the theory.
So, where are young people expected to gather all this experience? Sadly, it seems that they’re not.
I was recently trying to gather some people together for a focus group and ended up in Stockport talking to people on the high street and asking them to come along. Trying to hit busy areas, we took a wander down past the library and by the job centre where we hung about in the sun for a while talking to passers-by. I was quite upset to see that the whole time we were in that part of the city, only 2 or 3 people that looked over 30 went in to the job centre, and they weren’t older by much. Have we as a society given up on the youth of Britain? I know that there are incentives in place to provide more apprenticeships and reduce youth unemployment, but I’ve certainly never come across any in the real world and nor have any of the many unemployed young people I know. Government-funded schemes aren’t always the answer, and in this case I think it’s attitudes that need to change.
Do we all need to sit around until we’re 45 before anybody will listen to anything we have to say? It is starting to look that way! As a very active member of Liberal Youth, this really worries me because I have the pleasure of meeting loads of bright, active and enthusiastic young people with a lot to offer the world of politics; it was only last month that I heard from two inspiring young women at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference (both under 16) putting across strong arguments for a policy motion. I’d hate to see any of these fantastic people start to lose that passion simply because the world isn’t listening. It would not only be a shame for them, but ultimately for us all as a society to lose out on their contribution.
So, while I see your point, Anne Milton, I don’t appreciate you re-enforcing the idea that young people have nothing to contribute and I’m glad that the BBC made a bit of a fuss over it; it’s about time someone did.