Martin Phipps: Why we desperately need more young people in politics

I’M wary about presenting political life as a contest between the generations. Every generation has its ups and downs, its crises and its crunches.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators outside Parliament.

But at the age of 25, with my first political memories being of the Iraq war, followed a few years later by the global financial crash, then the coalition Government, then the Tories, it really does feel like one thing after another for my generation.

Even as a child I could see that sending our military into Iraq was not going to make things better there. Then the financial crash exposed just how many bad decisions had been made about the management of our economy. It really did seem that the world was a mess and the “adults” in charge couldn’t be trusted to sort it out.

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Towards the end of my first full year as a councillor in Sheffield, I know that many of my peers, facing the uncertainty of Brexit, are angry and fearful. Young people feel betrayed. It is our future that is being cut back, our freedoms and opportunities restricted.

Does Parliament speak for young people? Green Party councillor Martin Phipps poses the question.

Of course we’re angry at the Tories about that, but we also feel betrayed by Jeremy Corbyn’s stance. Young people are so overwhelmingly in favour of the People’s Vote.

But as a councillor, you work on the local, and I’m drawing modest comfort from the work we’re doing on reviewing mental health services for young people in Sheffield.

With no obvious likelihood of the Tory government being replaced, I’m not pinning my hopes on more resources, much as they’re desperately needed given the epidemic of mental illness we’re facing, but it is just possible we can find ways to improve the flow of information, make it easier for people to progress from youth to adult services and do something about waiting times.

Politics has to be about improving things, and even with inadequate resources, by listening to the people affected, genuinely hearing what they have to say and acting on it, we can make a difference.

Martin Phipps is a Green Party councillor in Sheffield.

If you look at my Twitter feed you’ll see that mental health issues are something I spend a lot of my political time on. That’s partly a result of personal experience – my dad suffered from bipolar disorder. It affected his life completely. The father I knew was a different man to the one my sister, who’s a few years older than me, knew – and of course very different from the man my mother married.

But it isn’t just personal. We still don’t talk about mental health issues much, but when you do, you so often find that everyone is affected by them in one way or another – a friend or family member, or themselves.

And the state of the world isn’t helping.

My generation grew up just learning about climate change as a fact. It has always been in our awareness, and I think that does make our attitudes different to other generations. Again it is that inbuilt awareness that what we’re doing isn’t working and really has to change.

Financial crises just keep happening again and again, the environmental crisis is crashing down on us: I’d sum it up with a general statement, we need more society, we need more caring, we need to be together.

I’m not talking David Cameron’s “big society” here – paid professional staff replaced with overstretched volunteers – but a change in values. A reversal and an end to Thatcherism for a start, which was sadly embodied by Tony Blair, the first Prime Minister I remember.

The narrative of how the world works is still very much about individual strivers taking your money and doing what they want with it, when instead we need to think of what we’re all doing collectively, and the impact 
it is having on society and the planet.

That means all of the generations together, which means we badly need more young people in politics. With the turnout of young voters so low, it is important that young people can see elected people like them.

The decisions made will affect us the most; we have to live for longest with the impact. If there aren’t young people in the room, then we’re not going to be well represented.

When you leave education, you think the ‘real world’ will be different, but then you find the ‘real world’ is just the same – the same faults, the same inequalities, the same injustices.

But you’ve got to think you can change them and that, with that freshness of new vision, you can help make a small difference in bringing about a more caring future.

Martin Phipps is a Sheffield Green Party councillor in City ward. He was elected in 2018 and tweets via @MartinPhipps13.