250 young people have met with MPs and journalists to have their say on what politics means to them and express their views on the forthcoming referendum. Young reporters also interviewed Simon Hughes MP on Votes at 16.

The Co-operative and the Institute for Citizenship hosted the Young Citizens’ Say: Referendum 2011 Event on 31 March to give over 250 young people, aged 16 to 19, the skills to voice their opinions and empower them to have their say on key issues such as the forthcoming AV Referendum.This was the only event in the UK to be aimed at engaging young people in the AV Referendum debate and giving them an opportunity to have their say over the electoral system they will inherit in a few years time.

Fahim and Aisha, young reportersFahim, 20, a young reporter from the British Youth Council had this to say about the event: “The first part of the conference was about giving young people their say. We began with a  panel debate, which was broadcast live to schools across the UK, which involved Ashleigh Ainsley, 18, Chair of Lewisham Young Advisors, alongside Simon Hughes MP (who we later interviewed), Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Mark Harper MP, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform. The discussion gave a lot of insight into highlighting the importance of getting young people more involved in the politics that governs their lives, whilst also throwing up suggestions into how to address the current situation and get more young people engaged”.

The second port of call for the day was a discussion on the AV Referendum. Chaired by the famous Dermot Murnaghan of Sky News and featuring David Blunkett MP (No to AV) and Ben Bradshaw MP (Yes to AV) the debate focussed on the effectiveness of the current voting system known as ‘First Past The Post’ and the reasons for and against changing to an ‘Alternative Vote’ system. Each side raised a lot of compelling arguments in their attempts to persuade the crowd and it was encouraging to see the young people in the audience ask the MPs questions and be confident enough to express their views”.

At the end of the day, the message from this event was clear. Young people can make a significant and important contribution to the democratic decisions that are taking place in the UK and that people and politicians need to make more of an effort to engage young people because ultimately they are the ones who will deal with the politics of the future”.

When Fahim and Aisha interviewed Simon Hughes MP, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, on getting young people involved in politics and Votes at 16. Mr Hughes told them: “The reason I’ve always thought votes at 16 is a good idea is that it means there’s no break between learning politics, which you do at school, and being able to do something about it“.  Watch the full interview below (sorry there’s quite a bit of background noise as it was a really busy event!).