Until this week’s shadow cabinet reshuffle, Charles Hendry was
shadow minister for young people. New Conservative leader Michael
Howard moved him to Central Office, where he becomes deputy
chairman of the Conservative party. That might be a plus for
Hendry, but it is a parliamentary loss to young people.
Hendry was perceptive and thoughtful when it came to the issue of
re-engaging young people in the democratic process. At a recent
conference for Make Space, the Kids Club Network initiative to
increase the number of clubs run with young people, he talked the
language of Old Labour. He described how he believed far more is
achieved by motivating young people rather than employing
increasingly punitive measures.
He expressed his dislike for political rhetoric that talks of
“listening” to the young but that gives little evidence of
delivery. He explained how, once upon a time, a daily dose of
current affairs was almost impossible to avoid; there were only
three television channels. Today, a teenager can watch TV 24 hours
a day, and the only issue of import he or she is likely to ingest
is whether J-Lo’s backside has got bigger.
Recognising the extent of the gulf between the young and
Westminster politics is not, of course, the same as providing the
policies that make a difference, such as a better minimum wage,
full benefit rights, an end to tuition fees and chucking out the
Sexual Offences Bill, which will criminalise 15-year-olds
exchanging a kiss. Still, Hendry has looked beyond the Daily Mail
headlines and found out for himself how young people live and what
kind of cultural and practical differences would encourage a
greater sense of inclusion.
If present trends continue, the marginalisation of the under-18s is
likely to gather pace. The next election will be swung by the
50-plus. Why? Because they are the age group that bothers to vote.
Once the government properly wakes up to that fact, the priorities
of the young – especially those on the edge of society – will drop
even lower down the agenda.
What would persuade government to engage more effectively with
teenagers? The answer is simple. Since politicians believe that you
only matter if you have a vote, we should reduce the voting age to
14 and provide incentives to use the ballot box. An absurd
That’s what they once said about allowing women to join the