By Ryan Jackson.
This March I attended Young Labour’s annual national youth conference in Leicester and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of delegates who were involved in one way or another in local politics. I was quietly re-assured by the number of young elected councillors – re-assured that local branches were actually selecting younger candidates.
However, one would expect to find young councillors somewhere at a political conference (for young people), surely?
I believe that there is still a message to convey to our local party branches about who is ‘fit’ to be selected as a council candidate, and ultimately be a councillor. Inevitably, there is the ‘experience issue’.
The experience issue is one that I can understand, however it’s also one that is too often used in a prejudicial way. What does one define as ‘experience’ – experience good enough to represent your local townsfolk? If there’s one unique thing that young people do have experience of – it’s of being a young person in their respective local authority.
There is an abundance of experience on every local council, and every bit of it is valuable. But is this ‘experience’ good enough when around a third of your population is under the age of 30? Can we say that our local authorities are representatively making decisions that affect us? Statistics from my own local authority, Wakefield, show that 36% of the population is under the age of 30. As a crude age-based calculation, that should equate to around 23 councillors being under the age of 30 if the council were to be representative of age. Wakefield falls drastically short.
But in reality, councils need to be representative in many ways. Being a Labour councillor shouldn’t just be for retirees or public-sector workers. (Though of course, the importance of the experience that these people bring should never be underestimated.) Young people in politics really do want to change the world and it’s that drive, determination, and passion to serve that should be equally as important.
Yes, the role of a councillor has its many challenges. And for a young person, just being a candidate can have its fair share of challenges too. But it’s these challenges that we should overcome together, with the help and guidance of our local parties as well as our individual resolve. We’ve seen in young Labour councillors such as Josh Newlove of Tranby in the East Riding of Yorkshire and Kate Taylor of Devonport in Plymouth just what a refreshing impact younger members can make, and I’d be proud to have either of them represent me in my local council chamber.
As the chair of a local Young Labour group, I hope more young people than ever before not only get the chance to, but are selected to stand and represent our diverse party in our local authorities. I want to go into the next set of district and city council elections backing a good number of formidable young candidates who passionately want to serve their local communities and help shape the future of our councils.
Ryan Jackson is a Young Fabians Member and Chair of West Yorkshire Young Labour.