Friday, 25 March 2011


Kayleigh Ashworth (left) 15 year old student from East Bridgwater school, has just been elected Youth and Student Officer of Bridgwater Labour party.

Alex Desmond (right) 24 year old graduate, is Bridgwater Labour’s youngest ever candidate in the forthcoming local elections and is standing for his home seat of North Petherton.

Together they discuss issues that are relevant to young people today.

Q: How did you get involved in politics and what attracted you to the Labour party?
Kayleigh: I became involved in the Somerset Advisory Group of the Youth Parliament through the Rollercoaster youth centre in Sydenham. I have been involved in various projects including a cyber-bullying conference and one on climate change at Hestercombe house.

Q: Have you met many well known politicians through your involvement in the Youth Parliament?
Kayleigh: Well, I was on a Q&A in Taunton with David Milliband.

Q: Didn’t you once meet Ian Liddell-Grainger?
Kayleigh: Well yes, but I don’t count him!

Q: What about you Alex?
Alex: I've always been interested in politics and for me the Labour party is the only party that fights for social justice. I was never sure what the Liberal Democrats stood for…

Q: Well I think that’s been cleared up recently.....
Alex: …What's crucial for me is fairness. I think that Labour is the only party with fair policies on education and taxation. I think opportunities should be there for all – we need a country where young people have chances based on their ability and achievement, not just on their connections.

Q: How have the Con-Dem education cuts affected the younger generation? It seems to me that they're very angry and taking to the streets. Is that a good thing for Labour?
Kayleigh: I think it's good to see young people fighting back. It's good to see a large number of young people out there.
Alex: We’ve got a situation where youth unemployment is currently running at nearly 20%. Young people are having to make some serious choices about whether or not they are prepared to take on a large amount of debt to get a degree which may not even guarantee a job at the end of it.
Kayleigh: Lots of people are now thinking twice about college because of the cuts to EMA and the rise in tuition fees. It’s causing a lot of stress.
Alex: The student fight is undoubtedly a part of the wider fight against the cuts. I think there will be a lot of young people joining the TUC demo in London on the 26th March. There are a lot of decisions being taken which will affect young people’s lives after education – including pension reforms.
Kayleigh: I think it sends a bigger message if all ages of society stand together.

Q: What are the big issues for education locally?
Kayleigh: I’d say the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) programme cutbacks will cause a big problem for us at East Bridgwater. Already the numbers at our school are down as people sign up for the BSF schools at Chilton and Blake instead. I told Liddell-Grainger this but he just kept saying I didn't know what I was talking about.
Alex: I think a big problem is the uncertainty. The decisions about cuts to services are not being communicated effectively. Children and young people deserve continuity and stability.
Kayleigh: There’s lots of pressure on you now at a very early age.

Q: What do you think of Ed Milliband and the Labour message for young people?
Kayleigh: I think it's positive. He's younger, more modern; he’s not married yet he has kids. But he's still not so well known and still needs to get his point across. It's good that he's much less into 'punch and judy' politics.
Alex: I think he's more in touch with younger voters. It's too early to judge his performance but what's important is the new leader is listening to voters and conducting policy reviews. The government is making decisions at a breakneck speed and we need a considered response.

Q: Ed faces some criticism for being a bit invisible. Is that fair?
Alex: I think we have to get away from the 'cult of celebrity'. Young people get involved in politics because of policies and because of things that affect them. The younger generation is much more educated and in-touch than it’s given credit for. The internet - and social networking in particular - has revolutionised the way young people find information and organise themselves politically.
Kayleigh: Everything is faster and information is more available, for example the news in Japan was all over people’s statuses on facebook as it happened.
Alex: It's easier to make your voice heard now than it was 15 years ago. Now anyone can set up a blog. Most young people use the internet as a source of news and there’s a much wider range of opinions out there.

Q: But is it maybe open to abuse? For instance everything the BNP wants you to hear is out there too. Is there not still a case for ‘no platform for fascists’?
Alex: Well, I think the reality of the internet means that censorship isn’t a viable option. Nationalist parties have already got a platform on the internet and I don’t think we can change that. Our country believes in freedom of speech.
Kayleigh: Some young people make casual remarks and don't realise they're being fascist, but they can also educate themselves against it in the same way.
Alex: I think that’s a fair point. In some ways it’s more effective to throw a spotlight on these sorts of views and discuss them in the open rather than brushing them under the carpet. That way these views can be exposed for what they are and I believe young people will reject them.

Q: What’s the future for the Labour Party in this bright new world then?
Alex: We need to take a lead and cement our position as the progressive party. We need to concentrate less on infighting and more on policy. We especially need to challenge the concept of the ‘Big Society’. Volunteerism and co-operatives are a natural fit with Labour’s progressive values, but I think that the voluntary sector still needs backing and support from the state. The coalition is making the argument that the state represents an unnecessary interference in people’s lives. On the contrary, I believe that the state is a fundamental force for good. It’s where people come together and make the decisions which improve society. We need to win that argument!

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