Listening to young people is no misguided fetish

It is a real shame that the first person appointed Youth Police & Crime Commissioner turned out to be such a controversial figure, but it would be a tragedy if we let that discredit the value of young people contributing to society more widely as some have tried to do.

The saga surrounding former Kent Youth PCC Paris Brown’s tweets is well aired by others and I do not intend to repeat the arguments either way but the debate has now broadened to question the contribution of young people in our democratic and civil structures.

The Independent columnist Mary Dejevsky writes of “the misguided fetish that so many well-meaning adults have with getting down with the kids,” a sentiment which is offensive both to those leaders in society working hard to engage the voice of young people in their work, including the Speaker of the House Commons and indeed Kent PCC Ann Barnes, and to the thousands of young people actively contributing to society on behalf of their peers.

Over half a million young people voted for their representatives in democratic youth structures this year, such as the UK Youth Parliament. They are represented by a mass of passionate young activists who seek to work with councillors, MPs, ministers, civil servants, community leaders and many others to ensure policies take account of young people’s views. In fact the average turnout in these elections is higher than that for PCCs themselves.

They do not set out to represent the views of older people and equally they do not expect older people to assume their views. Dejevsky’s contention that those wanting full-time help on youth issues should just look to those over 18 does nothing to help encourage young people to play their part in society and it works on the presumption that if you spend 18 years telling somebody they are not old enough to contribute they will suddenly flick a switch and be interested on their 18th birthday. Now that is misguided.

Fortunately Lincolnshire’s PCC Alan Hardwick is talking about young people too, but perhaps misses an opportunity to set out more concrete, transparent plans rather than a few carefully prepared statements in the media.

As Vice-Chair of the British Youth Council, I see the grit and determination of young people from all corners of the UK in their early teens through to their early twenties. These are young people who refuse to be passive and uninterested, they are not just the leaders of tomorrow but they are also the leaders of today.

PCC Hardwick may be wise to avoid copying the Kent role for now until the dust settles, but I would argue the young people of Lincolnshire and their representatives need reassurance on how he is seeking to include the views of young people in shaping the force he leads, rather than taking the outdated and out of touch approach suggested by Mary Dejevsky.