A question I am often asked as a youth officer for my local North Northumberland Labour Party is why aren’t more young people interested in politics when they face so many problems? I recently carried out a youth survey with people aged under 30. Unsurprisingly, concerns about escalating costs, poor wages, lack of career opportunities, rising rents and mortgage rates and unreliable and expensive public transport all scored highly.
Sadly, these concerns didn’t translate to increased political engagement. Perhaps young people don’t appreciate or even see just how they can influence their own futures and how those of their children are shaped.
I’ve been interested in politics and activism since my early teens. I desperately want to see Labour replace the Tories in government, who have spent 13 miserable years of looking after the top one percent while ignoring the rest of us.
Sometimes, I look for inspiration from liked-minded political figures and there are few better than Jamie Driscoll, who just happens to be the Mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority.
Jamie has been working hard, negotiating a new £4.3billion devolution deal that will create thousands of jobs, vastly improve public transport and give us a far greater say in deciding what happens in the North East.
Although he’s very busy, Jamie spared me half an hour for a chat as a follow-up to a Labour Party meeting where he was our special guest speaker talking about the pragmatic benefits of DEVO power. And his message is loud and clear: young people should get involved in politics.
Driscoll joined the Labour Party as a 15-year-old, but it wasn’t until 2018 he was elected a Labour City Councillor for the Monument ward in Newcastle.
A year later, when the new North of Tyne Combined Authority administration came into existence, he was encouraging people to stand for Mayor, until he received a phone call - and it was suggested he do it himself. Which he did, and won. Remarkably, as it was a completely new set-up comprising Northumberland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and North Tyneside, Mayor Driscoll spent the first few months recruiting the staff. A few years later and he’s negotiating with the Tory government and the likes of Michael Gove to get the best devolution deal for our region, compared to the rest of the England.
The really inspiring factor for young people like me is that in twenty-five years’ time one of my friends or even myself could be an elected councillor or even the mayor.
When we chatted, Jamie gave me a few tips I'd like to share with you: Firstly, DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS!
Some might say politics is easy if you have strong political opinions, a loud voice or access to a big audience. But it doesn’t work like that. Politics is for everyone, no matter who you are, but to get involved you must believe in what you’re doing.
Driscoll's second tip is to find people and talk to them. Going back to my survey, one of the most common reasons young people don’t get involved with politics is that they don’t think there are enough like-minded people out there. There are - we just need to identify each and come together.
Thirdly, Driscoll states that if you have a vision, a certain way you want to see your future, don’t hesitate to get involved with politics. He did when he first joined Labour at fifteen and you can do it too.
The fourth point: You can’t change anything shouting from the side-lines. You can only direct the play if you have real power. Driscoll sees himself not as a political leader, as a Chief Executive Officer for the region, implementing policies that benefit all of us now and for the coming decades.
One final thing: You can be a political activist beyond political party activism. You don’t need to be a member of a political party to make a difference. Political activism comes in many forms, from attending peaceful protests and demonstrations to signing petitions and encouraging others to do so, to just simply raising awareness by talking to friends and family about issues and sharing content online.
Jamie Driscoll is twice my age - and his legacy is all clear to me. Politics can help change society for the better. For me, that will help define my political future as I look to follow in his footsteps by taking direct and frontline action in our local democracy. I hope in 2025 I am not the only one under 30 who decides to do so. The question is, who else is going to join me?