Jackie Weaver – the chair of ‘that’ Handforth Parish Council Meeting – spoke to The Speaker about local government, and why it is important for young people to get involved in politics.
Young people are infamously apathetic when it comes to politics, particularly local politics, with only around 47% of 18-24-year-olds voting in the 2019 general election, a figure that is significantly lower for local elections.
In the United Kingdom, the average age of a local councillor is 59 and young people often fail to see how much the decisions at a local level affect them. Whilst young people will regularly post about political issues on Twitter or Instagram, participating in campaigns to raise awareness about political issues, they are unlikely to become involved in elected politics.
This is something that Jackie Weaver thinks should change, and suggested that people can have far more impact on their local area than they think; a more substantial impact than they could on national issues.
Speaking about the impact of local politics, Jackie Weaver said:
“Young people do seem to be leading the way in looking after the planet”.
“Not everyone can be Greta [Thunberg], not everybody can travel the world and make a difference […] but what you can do, is make a difference in your local community”.
Whilst young people are often extremely keen to fight for the big national issues that they care about, the combative nature of Parliament and local politics can often make it seem like there is no way to achieve these goals through the traditional political system.
Jackie Weaver suggested that apathy is perhaps because young people cannot see the benefit that local government can have on them, or that they do not understand how local government works. However, when it comes to fighting for the issues that matter to you, it is often the place where you can have the biggest impact.
“Your local council is the place to really get involved in things like that”.
Although young people often care about politics, there is often a significant disconnect between the issues they care about, and the perception that local representatives have about what matters to young people. Whilst climate change and social justice issues clearly matter, Jackie Weaver suggested that often local government struggles to know what young people want on a local level.
She said “sometimes they are really difficult to talk to” and suggested that it is incumbent on young people to come forwards and make their voices heard.
“It is difficult for us, I think, as older people to understand what it is they are really involved in… what it is you are interested in”.
“It has to be a two way conversation […] it has to be young people coming forward and saying ‘this is what we want to do, help us do it'”.
The past year has demonstrated how much politics does impact our everyday lives and has perhaps gone some way to break down the political apathy that young people suffer from. There is an increasing consciousness of how government and political decisions can dictate our lives, but the 2021 local elections will perhaps demonstrate whether that will translate into young people exercising their voice through traditional political means.
Jackie Weaver suggested that young people are often apathetic because they cannot see a relationship between their views and what happens in politics at the national level, but urged that people get involved locally; whether it be in becoming an elected councillor, speaking to local government officials, or simply exercising your vote.
“If it is not the politics you are interested in, but actually making a change in your community, this [local government] is the place to do it”.
You can see clips from our interview with Jackie Weaver on our social media pages.