Young people are uninterested, preoccupied and politics is not really for them. Older people are more likely to vote, engaged and know what they’re doing.
This may be a sweeping generalisation but is probably a view that we have all heard before. However, it isn’t quite accurate and the situation is evolving for the better.
In the general election of 2005, only 38% of people aged 18-25 voted. This increased to 52% in 2010 and to 58% in 2015. So far so good, but in local government, the trend isn’t correlating.
Turnout continues to be a challenge and last year, a census study found that the average age of the UK councillor had topped 60 for the first time.
So, how can it be the case that while younger people are increasingly engaging in the political process through voting in general elections, they are not part of the political process itself by standing for election? This is the problem we need to fix.
There are of course exceptions. At 28, I am proud to be the leader of Trafford MBC, having been elected in 2008 at the age of 20, but I shouldn’t be an exception. We must capture the improving enthusiasm among young people for voting and use it to create a more representative council chamber.
We all have a responsibility to play our part, and now is the moment to do that. As local government prepares to take on greater decision-making powers we must ensure that people realise the local council matters, in some cases more than Westminster, to increase their involvement. The significance of improving the calibre of councillors, drawing on a wide range of ages and skills, has never been more important.
There are practical steps that can be taken; evening meetings, childcare support or work experience placements will all help.
Political parties, too, need to play their part and recognise the benefits of bringing younger people into the fold. We all say it, but how many of us actually do it?
Local government is an exciting place to be and it has the opportunity to benefit from the expertise that a blend of professions, skills and ages can bring and in doing so to ably demonstrate that we are stronger together.
Let’s put away the notion that young people are not interested and seize the opportunity that exists to change the face of our politics for a generation. If we do, everyone is a winner.
Sean Anstee (Con), leader, Trafford MBC