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Ask The Leaders


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In the run up to the general election, there has been an increasing amount of rhetoric addressing the fact that young people have the power to swing the vote. Social media has played a vital part in this movement and most of my discussion about currents affairs are now triggered by an article shared on Facebook or a controversial tweet or hashtag. It is incredible the way the digital world can influence so much of what makes up our reality.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being part of a select, live audience made up of young people who have contributed to an initiative run by Sky News, called ‘Stand Up Be Counted’. The aim of this campaign is to amplify young voices and get the youth actively engaged in politics – particularly through posting vlogs online. I attended a unique event titled ‘Ask The Leaders’, hosted by Facebook’s central London office. The day was an engaging and valuable experience where young people like myself had the opportunity to ask major party leaders questions about the issues that concern us; it was live streamed online and on Sky News. We heard from Natalie Bennett, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron. I got the chance to ask the Prime Minister about the significance of cross-party initiatives in steering the progression of democracy and government in the UK.

Considering the youthful population of the studio, it was somewhat unsurprising that tuition fees, graduate unemployment and rising house prices were among the many topics discussed. It was also eye-opening to hear about personal encounters with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia which shaped some of the questions raised. Adding to this personal touch were two leaders in particular; Natalie Bennett shared her experience of becoming a feminist at age five when she was told that girls were not allowed bicycles while Milliband spoke about the past of his immigrant parents who fled from persecution. In fact, in retrospect, all of the leaders displayed a certain level of honesty: Clegg, rather exasperated at one point during confrontation about tuition fees, said “I wish I was Prime Minister, I’m a human being, I wish I could do everything that I promised but I can’t”. The Prime Minister himself also admitted to “putting my hands in my head” every Wednesday at five minutes to twelve before having to face the so-called “nightmare” that is PMQs.

Although these attempts to be genuine and sincere can undoubtedly be seen in a positive light and I appreciate and respect the leaders for doing so, during lunch I had a conversation that made my optimistic self a little more suspicious. I was speaking with a guy who disagreed with Milliband’s repetitive references to his family’s history; his grandmother had also been a survivor of Auschwitz but he argued that something so personal should not be used to score political points and to gain the approval of potential voters. This really made me question to what extent we can trust the emotional oratory of politicians. Nevertheless, it is a much-needed reminder that these party leaders and all politicians are indeed human beings; flawed, imperfect and created with the complex nuances of their individual personality and ways of communicating. They are not distant robots whose worlds revolve solely around taxes, budgets and elections. Yes, they do need to be held accountable for all of their actions – we live in a democracy and they are there to represent us but their humanity should be validated too.

One question that particularly stood out for me demanded an explanation for why the British flag was flown at half-mast when Saudi King Abdullah died, when he had an appalling record of human rights violations. I enjoyed this moment so much because it revealed that young people in Britain are not only aware and engaging in the political scene here in the UK but we are passionate about issues spanning the globe. When defending his actions, another young person was dauntless in asking David Cameron whether oil had anything to do with it. This fearlessness, this unashamed stance in being audacious is something that I think made the day such a success and such a joy to be part of. We were not afraid to be provocative and to say what we really thought. If this generation is going to be the one to break down the barriers of apathy and mediocrity, this is definitely the way to go.

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