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 The Lib Dems do not publish their figures either.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.

 

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She knew every trick to get a home visit – but this time I had come prepared

 Having been conned into another couple of fruitless house calls, I now parry the proffered symptoms and generally get to the heart of the matter on the phone.

I first came across Verenice a couple of years ago when I was on duty at the out-of-hours service.

“I’m a diabetic,” she told me, “and I’m feeling really poorly.” She detailed a litany of symptoms. I said I’d be round straight away.

What sounded worrying on the phone proved very different in Verenice’s smoke-fugged sitting room. She was comfortable and chatty, she had no fever or sign of illness, and her blood sugar was well controlled. In fact, she looked remarkably well. As I tried to draw the visit to a close, she began to regale me with complaints about her own GP: how he neglected her needs, dismissed her symptoms, refused to take her calls.

It sounded unlikely, but I listened sympathetically and with an open mind. Bit by bit, other professionals were brought into the frame: persecutory social workers, vindictive housing officers, corrupt policemen, and a particularly odious psychiatrist who’d had her locked up in hospital for months and had recently discharged her to live in this new, hateful bungalow.

By the time she had told me about her sit-in at the local newspaper’s offices – to try to force reporters to cover her story – and described her attempts to get arrested so that she could go to court and tell a judge about the whole saga, it was clear Verenice wasn’t interacting with the world in quite the same way as the rest of us.

It’s a delicate path to tread, extricating oneself from such a situation. The mental health issues could safely be left to her usual daytime team to follow up, so my task was to get out of the door without further inflaming the perceptions of neglect and maltreatment. It didn’t go too well to start with. Her voice got louder and louder: was I, too, going to do nothing to help? Couldn’t I see she was really ill? I’d be sorry when she didn’t wake up the next morning.

What worked fantastically was asking her what she actually wanted me to do. Her first stab – to get her rehoused to her old area as an emergency that evening – was so beyond the plausible that even she seemed able to accept my protestations of impotence. When I asked her again, suddenly all the heat went out of her voice. She said she didn’t think she had any food; could I get her something to eat? A swift check revealed a fridge and cupboards stocked with the basics. I gave her some menu suggestions, but drew the line at preparing the meal myself. By then, she seemed meekly willing to allow me to go.

We’ve had many out-of-hours conversations since. For all her strangeness, she is wily, and knows the medical gambits to play in order to trigger a home visit. Having been conned into another couple of fruitless house calls, I now parry the proffered symptoms and generally get to the heart of the matter on the phone. It usually revolves around food. Could I bring some bread and milk? She’s got no phone credit left; could I call the Chinese and order her a home delivery?

She came up on the screen again recently. I rang, and she spoke of excruciating ear pain, discharge and fever. I sighed, accepting defeat: with that story I’d no choice but to go round. Acting on an inkling, though, I popped to the drug cupboard first.

Predictably enough, when I arrived at Verenice’s I found her smiling away and puffing on a Benson, with a normal temperature, pristine ears and perfect blood glucose.

“Well,” I said, “whatever’s causing your ear to hurt is a medical mystery. Take some paracetamol and I’m sure it’ll be fine in the morning.”

There was a flash of triumph in her eyes. “Ah, but doctor, I haven’t got any. Could you –”

Before she could finish, I produced a pack of paracetamol from my pocket and dropped it on her lap. She looked at me with surprise and admiration. She may have suckered me round again, but I’d managed to second-guess her. I was back out of the door in under five minutes. A score-draw. 

Phil Whitaker is a GP and an award-winning author. His fifth novel, “Sister Sebastian’s Library”, will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain