Interest in Ukip's Young Independence, for party members aged under 30, is surging. Photo: Getty
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Could political party youth wings galvanise young Brits to vote?

As interest in Ukip's Young Independence surges, youth wings of political parties may be the best hope of staving off apathy in the young.

Ukip's Young Independence, the party’s youth wing, launched its annual conference today in Birmingham. The number of under 30s attending is modest at 140, but it is the party's largest youth summit so far.

It marks a surge in interest in the party from young voters in the past eight months. Last week Ukip announced that membership of its youth wing in the eastern region has increased 100 per cent since the beginning of this year.

The youth wing has experienced an explosion in growth nationally too, with membership up 40 per cent since March this year to 2,600 members at present. Ukip hopes to hit a target of 3,500 young members by next August.

While membership is increasing rapidly, Ukip still has some way to go to rival the Conservatives. The Tories claim that Conservative Future, their youth wing for Under 30s, has 15,000 members and is the largest youth political organisation in the UK.

Comparisons with the other parties are difficult to draw. Labour refuses to disclose the breakdown of membership of its youth organisations, which include a group for 14 to 20 year olds, and another for 20 to 26 year olds. Meanwhile the official website for Young Labour, which is linked to on the party’s main website, comes up with an error message at present. The Lib Dems do not publish their figures either.

The decline in partipation of young citizens in British politics is reaching constitutional crisispoint. The UK now has the worst record in Western Europe for the gap between youth voter turnout and overall turnout.

Over recent decades, voter turnout among 18 to 24 year olds have fallen sharply  to under 50 per cent in UK general elections. It is predicted that the Coalition’s individual voter registration reforms will damage youth participation at the ballot boxes next May even further.

So are political party youth wings a good bet for galvanising young people and encouraging them to take an interest and vote? Tim Stanley, a journalist and historian with personal experience of intense involvement in youth politics, is wary about people getting deeply involved in politics too young.

A former chair of the Cambridge University Labour Club, who joined the Labour party at age 15, he regrets his former earnest involvement with politics.

Debating the matter with former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Stanley lamented failing to “sleep around” and enjoy his adolescence and early twenties.

He said: “If you’re young, you’re better off spending your time on something more useless.” He added that young people committed to politics “tend to be immature, tend to be driven towards the fringes, they tend to see life as very straightforward and easy and they've got all the answers. You quickly discover you haven't.”

He added: “You wake up one day and think: what have I done with the last few years of my life.”

Widdecombe rejected his pessimism. “There’s nothing wrong at all with young people thinking on serious matters, even if they’re going to reject what they think in later years, getting involved in local politics and thinking about how the country is run.”

She added: “If you don’t get engaged, if you’re not interested when you’re younger, when exactly is that interest going to come?”

Jack Duffin, the 22-year-old chairman of Ukip’s Young Independence, staunchly defends the importance of having young voices in politics.

He told me today that he is firmly on Widdecombe’s side in this debate. “Youth politics are fantastic,” he said. “I can’t wait 20 years for Labour or Tory governments to destroy my future even more. Our generation will have to live with the mess these governments are making.”

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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