Would you spend the majority of your spare time campaigning for a political party? 21 year-old Henri Murison has been doing just that since he was 15. Here he explains what drives him to keep fighting for young people's rights - and why more of us should do the same.
How I got involved in politics
I was very young when I got interested in politics, but I wasn't one of those people whose parents got them into it. The thing I really remember was in year 9 when we had a school election and I was involved in campaigning for Labour. I was lucky to have access to information about politics and to have inspiring people around. One of my teachers was a candidate in the election that year and that encouraged me to start having real discussions about it. I was already a Labour supporter, but it's quite a different thing to then go away and start thinking about joining a political party.
I joined the Labour Party when I was 15. I decided to go along to a local meeting at my local branch and it was really good - I met some really nice people, but not many young people, I must say! I got more and more involved and took part in a local campaign to get a Labour councillor. My local area is North Yorkshire - a very strong Conservative area. It was successful, which was great, but I do think what really got me to stick around was being welcomed and feeling like I was part of a network.
The way I see other young people
I think it's a bit of a myth that young people aren't interested in politics. Fair enough, we still vote in the smallest numbers and are less likely to get involved in political parties, but that doesn't mean we don't care. Young people are interested in politics in different ways. Not everybody is prepared to say: "I support this party and I'm willing to go out and spend a significant amount of my time trying to get them elected," which is fine: that's not necessarily for everybody. If, for instance, you're lobbying your local council about a skate park that's threatened with closure, that's just as political as getting involved at a party level. It's a mistake to draw boundaries between these. I've found that the reasons that young people get involved are actually very similar; it tends to be the same things that inspire people - they see something they don't agree with and they want to work out how to change it, or they want to feel proud about getting behind something they do agree with.
I'm proud of what I believe in and it's not something that needs to be sold. I don't need to go to young people and say: "look what we've done, aren't we brilliant." A mistake that many people make is to think that political parties are only interested in getting people's votes. Obviously that is important, but in terms of building relationships, it's much better to know what people want and believe.
Fair enough, young people still vote in the smallest numbers and are less likely to get involved in political parties, but that doesn't mean we don't care.
How I feel I've made a difference
I'm involved in the national committee of Labour Students, a student branch of the Labour Party and I've been elected to carry on next year. It involves encouraging people to get involved, lots of organising and supporting other local clubs and groups.
When I was a trustee of the British Youth Council I was doing very similar work: running events, getting people to come along, but from a very different perspective. It was less about party politics, and in fact a lot of the people there aren't really involved in politics at all. It's really good that there are places like this that aim to get young people involved on a much more general level so that if they're not associated with one party they can still find out about how politics affects them.
I also work closely with Young Labour and we do a lot of work pressuring the government on issues that affect young people. Now we've got a National Minimum Wage for the first time for 16 and 17 year-olds and that came from young people both in and out of the Labour Party campaigning. We do have quite a strong voice that we use to lobby parliament and it feels good to know that we are being listened to and that we can help to make a difference.
The fact there's now an Educational Maintenance Allowance is also a massive step forward and is one of the most positive things that has happened for young people, but there are other issues I care about too. For example, I'd like to see concessionary transport for young people - it's something I'm sure lots of other people believe in, but unless we get together to articulate these issues, nothing will change.
I'm staying around next year as a paid position in Young Labour, but beyond that I don't have huge aspirations to stand for parliament or make a career out of politics. There are so many other people I know that would be better at that. I really enjoy campaigning and I think I'll always be involved in the Labour Party as a volunteer, as I find it really enjoyable.
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