The task for those who care about democracy is to translate the new ways of political engagement into effective action

Over recent weeks, Democratic Audit has been looking at ways to re-engage young people with politics for our ‘Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission’ in collaboration with Huddersfield University’s Dr Andy Mycock. In the latest instalment of this series, Chloe Smith MP argues that though the internet cannot replace politics, it can be a useful supplement, with online-based youth activism providing an opportunity to buttress traditional politics. 

(Credit:, CC BY SA 2.0)

(Credit:, CC BY SA 2.0)

I welcome the range and passion represented in Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics.

I was elected at the age of 27. I’ve been one of the youngest Ministers in British history at 28. I first got interested in politics when I was trying to set up a youth forum in Norfolk, where I grew up and where I have the privilege to be a Member of Parliament today. So for me it’s obvious that young people have a place at the heart of democracy. As a former minister responsible for electoral registration, I have publicly promoted ways to get more young people registered to vote. But that is only the start and all of us who care about the public sphere want young people to go on to take their place as leaders in their own right.

British democracy faces a tipping-point. The majority of today’s 18-24 year olds are not voting. Only 44% turned out in 2010 and, since then, at worst, 88% expressed that they don’t plan to vote. There is evidence to suggest this situation is more extreme than it has been for previous generations of young citizens, and that Britain’s problem is worse than elsewhere in Europe and the US.  I have argued – along with many academics – that this situation is irreversible.  Politics needs to evolve with it in order to survive into the next ten years.

2015’s first time voters have “a considerable aversion to formal, professional politics” – but they are interested in political affairs. That still means politicians need to show why politics works.

Across Europe, young people’s repertoires of political engagement have become more diverse. ‘Lifestyle politics’ is rising. And yes, in Britain their voting patterns are rupturing from their parents’, but “this is not to say that young people in Britain do not have strong civic values – in fact, British youngsters have relatively high levels of engagement in charitable work and volunteering.”

Recent research from Demos suggests that:

“Teenagers are motivated to make a difference in their community but the tools they use and the approach they take is different from those of previous generations. They do not rely on politicians and others to solve the world’s problems, but instead roll up their sleeves and power up their laptop and smartphone to get things done through crowd-sourced collaboration. They value bottom-up social action and enterprise over top-down politics.”

Danny Finkelstein asked in The Times recently: has Twitter made MPs obsolete? I do not defend everything about Parliament today, but I say Mr Finkelstein is wrong in this, because leaders will always be needed. Leaders will put cultural and technological changes to use, rather than compete against them. I see every chance for young people to take this opportunity and lead in their own right. As their numbers grow and older generations decline, they will be obliged to otherwise their own state will become illegitimate.  Someone always needs to run the country, after all. The immediate task facing all of us who care about democracy is to help translate the new ways of political engagement into effective action.

The author has published posts on a similar theme on Conservative Home, which can be found here. This post is part of a series on youth participation based on the Political Studies Association project, Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission. For further details, please contact Dr Andy Mycock. An electronic copy of the Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics volume can be downloaded here.

Note: This post represents the views of the author and does not give the position of the LSE or Democratic Audit. Please read our comments policy before commenting. The shortened URL for this post is:

72302.jpgChloe Smith has been the Conservative MP for Norwich North since a by-election in 2009. She has served as a Minister in the Coalition Government.



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