At just 19 years old, Tina Bhartwas is one of the youngest county councillors in the country. Despite only being elected onto Hertfordshire County Council in May, Cllr Bhartwas has already made a big impression, challenging the notion that local government – and politics more widely – is an old man’s game.
Here she talks about her experiences so far, the importance of diversity in politics, and how to remove the barriers facing young people entering politics:
I chose to stand as a councillor because I wanted to give back to the community that has shaped me. I wanted to give a voice to young people in Hertfordshire and improve the lives of those living in my community – a community like many across the East of England that has been left behind.
Since being elected in May I have discovered how varied the role of a councillor is, with council meetings, community events and site visits keeping me very busy! Already I’ve been able to deliver on commitments to my residents such as on environmental issues including road safety, waste management and planning. I’ve also been able to raise important issues like free school meals, expenses of school uniforms and condemning racism in council meetings.
The importance of greater diversity in politics
As a young working-class Asian woman growing up I didn’t see politicians who looked like me or had the experiences I did. I wanted to bring those important experiences to Hertfordshire County Council and be that role model for other people who feel that politics is not for them. Through greater diversity and a council that is representative of local people better decisions are made for the community.
Barriers and how to remove them
One of the barriers to entering local politics as a young person is not feeling listened to or valued at a local level. You aren’t taught about how local councils make decisions and those in power seem to want to keep things the same. Despite my personal experiences, my work as a charity vice-chair and community involvement, I still doubted what I had to offer to local government. And once I had decided to stand, I realised there were very few examples of how life as a young person and as a councillor fit together.
During my time at school, I also saw how the internet has transformed the way young people connect with politics and engage with political ideas. Young people often engage with single issue campaigns and do so by utilising social media and online spaces. In order to get young people engaged with local government we need to show them how the decisions we make directly impact the issues they care about. To do this we need to reach out to them in the spaces they occupy, and platform them.
The fact that politics isn’t taught in schools makes it difficult to bring young people into politics/local government. It means they often leave school with little knowledge of where power lies and how electoral politics can change our community for the better. We need civics to be a part of the curriculum, and this is something a Labour Government will deliver, along with Votes at 16. It will engage young people at a crucial time, leading them to taking this forward throughout their lives.
Juggling a political and personal life
But the barriers don’t stop there. There are other considerations such as balancing council with studies, work and also raising a young family. These factors mean that councillors tend to be men of retirement age. And local government is viewed as a space that is not for young people and thus the cycle continues.
We must encourage more young people to put themselves forward to be elected representatives. Having their views at the heart of decision making will get even more people engaged with politics and local government. It will bring in important new voices and fresh new ideas, and will deliver the meaningful change our communities so desperately need.
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