Town’s young provide hope

THE question of public engagement with politics is an important one.

The matter of making a decision over how your town or country is governed is one of the most significant things that an adult can do by voting. It is much cherished and sought for in other countries.

We have had a number of opportunities this month to have a say as to how our town is governed and how essential services like police and law and order will be dealt with.

We have had the mayoral referendum, bringing to an end a decade of that particular type of governance, and we have had the first ever Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election.

Not many people took the opportunity to cast their vote in either election. In the Mayoral referendum, just over 18 per cent of the electorate voted.

It was even less for the PCC elections, with about 14.7 per cent of the voters in the Cleveland Police area casting a choice. Nationally, the PCC elections had a turnout of about 15 per cent.

There will, quite rightly, be many questions asked about why there was such a low turnout.

You have to question the wisdom of a government deciding that the best time to hold PCC elections is in the depths of a cold and wet November.

Let me be strictly impartial here, though: the previous Labour Government also decided to hold a referendum in November, for the North-East assembly eight years ago, although the Government of the time, slightly more sensibly than the current lot, ensured that the referendum was an all postal vote affair.

As a result, almost half, or just over 47 per cent, turned out for the referendum in 2004.

I mention low turnouts and apathy with politics because of the event I took part in on Friday as part of Takeover Day.

I was part of a panel in Hartlepool Borough Council’s chamber where I was questioned by young people from the town’s primary and secondary schools.

I enjoy these types of events enormously, even though they are invariably incredibly difficult. I like the way that young people rarely stand on ceremony; they get right to the point and ask the pertinent questions.

On Friday young people asked about the future of youth provision in the town, attitudes towards drugs and alcohol and the issues of different generations mixing.

Following on from the panel question and answer session, they undertook a budget setting exercise for the local authority, to give them a real insight into the different challenges and pressures that decision makers face.

I found it inspiring and challenging and, as I always do when I go into schools and colleges, found young people wishing to engage and actively participate.

I hope the young people found the experience rewarding, as I did.

I also hope that it will encourage young people to play much more of an active role in the issues that affect them, their families and their communities.

Getting more active and playing more of a role in your town’s or country’s affairs is rarely a waste of time, despite the inevitable disappointments that happen in modern life and policy making.

I hope that young people will play such a role, so that the low turnouts can be reversed in years to come.