Bite The Ballot’s #YouthVoteLondon feature for The Evening Standard

In Bite The Ballot on April 17, 2012 at 1:03 am

12 April 2012

This Saturday crowds will descend on Ministry of Sound. Not for the hedonistic nights the superclub usually hosts, though, for Ministry is entering a much murkier world — that of the political rally. Bite the Ballot, a non-partisan group which campaigns to improve youth engagement, is running a registration afternoon for the mayoral election. Tinie Tempah (the rapper you would take home to meet your mother), the screenwriter Noel Clarke and actor Ashley Walters have all sprinkled their celebrity fairy dust over the event.

It is a little depressing — though unsurprising — that the organisers feel it needs famous backing to succeed, but at least the UK is finally following the US’s lead in trying to involve young voters. At the last general election only 44 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds turned out, compared with 75 per cent of over-65s.

Saturday isn’t only about getting the young to register. Although citizenship is taught in schools, Bite the Ballot’s chairman Michael Sani says some first-time voters simply don’t know what to do at the ballot box. Then there’s the bigger problem of persuading the disaffected that their votes and views matter.

The under-25s have every reason to feel done over. On top of record youth unemployment, the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance and soaring student fees, they are among the hardest hit by the high costs of housing and transport in London. Throw in the almost routine youth-bashing which sees them dismissed as hopeless hoodies and it’s small wonder they don’t feel anyone will listen.

But the more the young remove themselves from the political system, the easier they are to ignore. They should realise that the reason the baby-boomers could kick up such a stink over the “granny tax” was because of their electoral might.

In other countries first-time voters are not treated as electorally impotent. The youth vote helped Barack Obama into the White House, and Marine Le Pen and latterly Nicolas Sarkozy have been courting them keenly in France.

Perhaps inevitably, the mayoral candidates with no hope of winning are doing more to win over the young than the bickering pair out in front. Brian Paddick this week pledged to set up “youth hubs” across London, funded by banks and a pound-a-night levy on those staying in the plushest hotels, while the independent candidate Siobhan Benita has promised to give up part of her salary to fund a “youth mayor”.

But the difficulty in trying to stoke any enthusiasm about this election is that it is just 2008 regurgitated, a chance to determine (again) who is the lesser of two evils: Ken or Boris. Perhaps, though, if we do enough to engage the young now, there’ll be some fresher faces on the ballot come 2016.

Girls can rule the fast lane

With its scantily-clad “Grid Girls”, Formula One can look like the ultimate boys’ club. Its one redeeming feature, though, is that women can compete with men; theoretically, at least — no one without a Y-chromosome has made it into a Formula One seat in two decades.

As a life-long petrolhead, I dream one day of seeing a female winner. So it is cheering that two of the most recent appointments in the sport — admittedly only in test or development driver roles — have been women: Maria de Villota for Marussia and Susie Wolff, who joined Williams yesterday.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said of the latter’s new job: “If Susie is as quick in a car as she looks good out of a car then she will be a massive asset to any team.” Still some progress to be made, then.

As the rich dodge tax, we pay too much

Last year, I filled in my first self-assessment form (stay with me: this gets more interesting. Well, a bit). As I embarked on what I now know to be a Sisyphean torture involving unanswered letters and hours in call-waiting limbo, I discovered the tax man owed me a significant sum.

Now, I won’t pretend that a PPE degree equips you for much (as our government is daily testament to) but my studying economics may mean I am a little more tax-aware than some souls who have to handle a P60. So, in a week when George Osborne realised that — surprise! —the rich avoid paying tax, I suggest the Treasury deigns to investigate how many lower earners are being charged more than their fair share.

PAYE is designed for those in steady employment, not those whose work is sporadic. Without an accountant, some won’t even know they have to send in a tax return. Our tax system mustn’t act as a reverse Robin Hood: letting the wealthy escape their dues and over-burdening some of those who can afford it least.

Call of duty for poop-snoopers

There’s a new weapon in the war on tail-wagger turds. Posters have popped up in Kensington for nodogdo.com, a website which invites you to upload videos of dog-owners who pretend to be oblivious when Rover rids himself of yesterday’s chicken & liver in gravy.

Normally, I oppose moves towards a spy-and-shame society. But — during my happy years dragging Jessie the Wonderdog around Myatt’s Fields — the only thing I hated more than the plastic bag operation was seeing others forgo it and sully us by association. Perhaps the best way to encourage every dog-owner to invest in a pooper-scooper is for us all to become pooper-snoopers.

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