Democracy, August 2007

This week I met over 50 young people from the US, Canada and Europe who were visiting Parliament as part of Wilton Park's Atlantic Youth Forum.

It was a special pleasure to host an event at the Commons for the Foreign Office conference centre which is based at Wiston in my constituency.

I was asked to speak to the group on the subject: "can young people influence politicians?"

My answer was yes! It's clear to me from my postbag that young people are strongly interested in political issues, especially international concerns such as war, third world development and climate change.

I know from meetings in local schools that young people are also interested in many domestic issues, especially crime, which of course affects them as much as anyone else.

But while the next generation is clearly highly motivated by political issues, they are turned off by the process of politics itself. And they are not alone.

Apathy is a growing problem amongst people of all ages. Only 61 per cent of voters turned out at the last election - down from 78 per cent as recently as 1992 and 84 per cent in 1950.

Recently I met with local members of the UK Youth Parliament who tried to lobby me for a reduction in the voting age from 18 to 16 as a way to re-engage the interest of young people in politics. I think that idea misses the point.

People are bound to feel disconnected from politics if they believe they have no real influence over decisions. Re-engagement is partly about giving people a real say over matters that affect them. We could start with the future of our local hospitals.

Finally, at the heart of voter cynicism is mistrust. So when a government makes a promise such as holding a referendum on the EU constitution, it should keep it.

Michelle Taylor