Keir Starmer joins national conversation with young people

Earlier this month we kicked off the #PowerOfYouth national conversation – a nationwide collaborative effort aiming to recognise young people for their efforts and sacrifices since lockdown began, empower more young people to make a difference, and give young people opportunities to shape the future. 

It is a crucial time for these conversations to be happening. Young people face marked challenges – young workers are the most likely to have lost work, a third of pupils are not engaging with school work, and young people are more likely than any other age group to report deteriorating mental health. Young people, whose voices have been prominent in Black Lives Matter activism, are also demanding that national leadership commit to eradicating racism.

As part of this effort, on 24th June, Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer joined a Quarantine Question Time event for young people – co-organised by the #iwill campaign, My Life My Say and UK Youth. He emphasised the importance of meaningfully engaging young people, saying:

“I don’t want a Labour Party that just says things about young people, I want the Labour Party that has young people in it saying what they think. […] We cannot go back to business as usual after this.  We have to go on to something better. Young people are so important, in a sense it’s your future more than anybody else’s future, you need to be part of that.”

Starmer noted that the effects of the pandemic are disproportionately affecting young people, reflecting particularly on the job market, mental health, and unequal access to education. Starmer also reflected on the closures of youth services which pre-date the pandemic. In response to #iwill Ambassadors Dan Lawes’ question on youth engagement, Starmer affirmed Labour’s support for Members of Youth Parliament (run by The British Youth Council) as well as for lowering the voting age to 16.

The event was chaired by radio presenter Swarzy Macaly and involved a panel of six young people, including #iwill Ambassadors Jonelle Awomoyi, 21 and Dan Lawes, 19. The event was hosted by My Life My Say, in partnership with the #iwill campaign and UK Youth

#iwill Ambassador Dan, a member of the youth panel, said: 

“Sir Keir Starmer’s appearance has set a precedent. Eyes will now turn to watch whether the government will engage in dialogue with us. Starmer’s support for the ‘Votes at 16’ campaign will be welcomed by young activists across the country and the policy’s development will be watched closely.

Dan is founder of Youth Politics UK, an award winning non-profit organisation dedicated to giving young people a voice and engaging young people with politics. You can read his full reflections from the event in his article for the Daily Mirror.

#iwill Ambassador Jonelle, whose question was not reached due to time constraints, said:

“Young people are determined to see an end to racism in our generation. I want to see the Labour Party put pressure on UK Government to implement recommendations of previous enquiries on racial discrimination. I hope that this conversation is not a one off, and that Starmer returns for future discussion in which this can be raised.”

Jonelle is a student and Head of News at Nottingham Student TV, where she produces and presents news shows to increase young people’s political engagement, as well as being a former Member of Youth Parliament for Croydon. 

Update: Sir Keir Starmer later followed up to answer Jonelle’s question. Watch the video above to hear his response.

Dr Rania Marandos, CEO of Step Up To Serve, which coordinates the #iwill campaign, says:

“Young people need to know that leaders are listening and prepared to engage. That’s why the #iwill campaign has launched a national conversation with young people to make sure the voices of young people are being heard in this crisis. 

Sir Keir Starmer is the latest in a number of leaders across the UK to actively engage with young people – including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams. We hope the Prime Minister will follow suit and commit to meaningful engagement with young people, including through holding a dedicated youth press conference.”

More information

A guide to hosting your own digital listening event with young people can be found here.