Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Nadia Khan, who is the co-founder of The Delicate Mind C.I.C.
In the wake of the announcement that the UK was headed for an early general election, ‘more than 270,000 people under 35 registered to vote in the first few days since MPs agreed to hold a general election.’ On the same day in which MPs decided to head for the polls, they also ruled out lowering the national voting age to 16. This decision sparked fresh debate over the political agency of 16-17-year olds in the UK.
So, besides voting in elections and referendums, what can young people do to impact legislation via Parliament?
My involvement in Parliament began through the frustration that I felt around steep cuts to public services. Moved by the impact that these cuts had on my local community in Leicester, I joined the Labour Friends of Sure Start’ Group, as a research assistant. I worked closely with a local councillor to provide data about the impact that the closures of Sure Start Centres had on communities across the UK. This experience provided me with a useful understanding of how local councillors work with MPs to lobby for change on social issues. Inspired by the change that can be made when local leaders and MPs work together, I was further motivated to engage with Parliament as an institution once more.
In 2016, I was fortunate to be part of the UN award-winning ParliaMentors Programme. I was one of 50 young people, selected from across the UK to be mentored by an MP who oversaw us set up a social action project. At the time, I was completing my undergraduate degree in International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London. I had begun volunteering with local organisations and saw how the community worked cohesively to address major social issues such as homelessness. Yet the media’s relentless misrepresentation of Tower Hamlets, had caused inaccurate perceptions of the borough and its residents. Hence, I set up the Humans of Tower Hamlets exhibition with my colleagues to celebrate unsung heroes committed to enhancing the lives of community members in East London. My team was mentored by Stephen Pound MP, and the project was featured on BBC Asian Network’s Big Debate Show highlighting the importance of young people engaging with MPs to achieve social change. Determined to continue my work helping to address social injustice, this time on an international level I once again engaged with Parliament. This time, working on an advocacy basis in collaboration with Aegis Trust.
Our advocacy team lobbied the late MP Jo Cox to pass an Early Day Motion, so Parliament would host a debate on why the UN should not use their veto power on issues of genocide. Our Campaign Less Veto More Action, was endorsed by the late MP with Jo even taking the step to pass an Early Day Motion to put our campaign on the House of Commons agenda. My experience taught me that through careful organisation at a grassroots level, with driven young people, Parliamentarians can and will respond to our calls to action.
This year, I submitted written evidence to the House of Common’s Foreign Affairs Committee for their ‘Global Britain and India Inquiry. My evidence allowed me to utilise the insights I had gained from working with the South Asian Muslim community, in particular women, on how members of the South Asian diaspora can and should be involved in consultations with the Foreign Office to shape the UK’s relationship with India post-Brexit. My research was not only published by the committee, but it was also cited in their official report ‘Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India ties’. The report was responded to by the Government, who welcomed engagement with members of the diaspora to bolster ties between the UK and India. This was significant for me as all too often, conversations around the UK’s foreign policy fail to encompass the views of informed women of colour. I would not have been able to have my voice captured about this significant international matter had it not been for the committees that exist within Parliament which provide a platform for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard.
Finally, I’d like to stress that you do not have to identify with a political party or person in order to make the most of Parliament. You simply have to have the courage to take a stand on a particular issue you feel most passionate about. Initiatives such as UK Youth Parliament and the British Youth Council are excellent avenues by which you can influence decision-makers. This is not just important for the future of our democracy, but it is key to enacting real tangible social, political and economic change for generations to come. Also, register to vote!