Politics and Democracy 

Why get involved in politics and democracy?

Politics and democracy covers a whole range of activities, including voting in elections (X Factor doesn’t count) and standing as an MP. And there are many different ways that you can get involved with decision-making to help shape the kind of society you want to live in whether at school, college or in your community.

Our national parliament in Westminster isn’t the only place where important decisions are made. If you want to contribute there are many other ways that you can have a real impact - you can get involved with local government as a councillor, you can join a pressure group or if you're young enough, you can be a member of the Student Council or the UK Youth Parliament.

You don’t need to join a political party or even be party-political to campaign for change on the issues that are important to you - organisations such as co-operatives, trade unions, charities (including Stonewall) and think tanks all play a role in pushing for change on a whole range of issues.

Why should LGB people get involved in politics?

Wherever decisions are being made, whether in Parliament or in a School Council, different people, with different experiences help ensure those decisions are as relevant as possible to the whole community. People can contribute new ideas and perspectives that others may not have considered. Having lesbian, gay and bisexual people around the table, with their diversity of experiences, benefits everyone.

Research shows that there remain significant issues that our decision makers need to address. For example, homophobic bullying in schools is endemic, three quarters of homophobic hate crimes are not reported to the police and health services still fail to provide inclusive healthcare to lesbian and gay patients. Getting involved in politics gives you the opportunity to raise these issues, and others that concern you, with the people that make the decisions.

You could also be one of the people making decisions by standing for elected office. Political parties and other campaign groups have come a long way in representing LGB people. There are now more openly lesbian, gay and bisexual politicians at the local and national level and across the political spectrum than ever before.

How to get involved

There are many different ways your voice can be heard. You could stand for elected office as a councillor or an MP, or you could get involved by attending community meetings, attending MP or councillor surgeries, voting in elections or running local campaigns.

While you may choose to get involved primarily to raise issues affecting LGB equality, you may just as well choose to focus on other issues that affect everyone - either way your experience as an LGB person will still inform your views and actions on those broader issues.

Why not take a look at the different ways you can get involved:

What if I don’t have the time?

Being a representative - whether on your school council or in the House of Commons - can be time consuming. You may not have the time or inclination to get involved in party politics, to campaign during elections or to get involved in think-tanks or policy making bodies. But that doesn’t mean you can't get involved in the decisions that affect you. You could:

  • Vote. One of the easiest ways to make your opinion known is to vote, whether in local, regional or national elections or referendums. To vote you need to be on the electoral register so make sure you are on it – you can register here
  • Attend electoral hustings. Most elections involve public events where candidates debate issues relevant to the local community. If they are happening in your local area why not attend and raise issues like homophobic bullying in schools and the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers.
  • Contact your representative. Whether it is your local councilor, MP, MEP, AM or MSP, most elected officials hold surgeries where their constituents can meet with them. If you have an issue you think is important in your local area, such as homophobic hate crime, attend a surgery and bring it to your representative’s attention. If you cannot attend, write them a letter or send them an email.
  • Sign a petition. Many campaigns seek support from local people by producing petitions. They are an effective way to demonstrate to elected officials the breadth of local opinion.
  • Join a political party. Although many people who join political parties are active campaigners, you can be as involved as you like – or not at all! Parties are always grateful for the support.

School Council

A school council is a group of students elected by their peers to represent their views and to raise issues with the school’s management and Governors. As a member you’d raise and do something about issues that your fellow pupils feel strongly about and you may also be involved with staff appointments and school planning.

School councils play an important role in raising issues such as homophobic bullying and as a member you’ll work closely with students and teachers to tackle these issues. Ask your teacher if you want to join your School Council or encourage them to set one up. More information on school councils can be found at www.schoolcouncils.org.

UK Youth Parliament

The UK Youth Parliament is a great way for you to channel your passion to change the world for the better - as an active citizen both in your local area and across the UK. Getting involved can also provide you with excellent experience for later life.

Run by young people aged 11-18, the UK Youth Parliament gives you, as a young person, a voice. There are Youth Parliaments in all areas of the UK and any young person aged 11-18 can stand and vote to become one of the 600 members. Once elected you’ll organise events and projects, run campaigns and influence decision makers on the issues which matter to young people. All members meet once a year at the UK Youth Parliament Annual Sitting - and in the past they’ve held their meetings in the House of Commons.

Talk to a teacher or visit the UK Youth Parliament website to find out about the parliament nearest to you.

Student Unions

Many colleges, sixth forms and universities have student unions which support their students and speak on their behalf. You can seek election to the student union or you can get involved by volunteering on committees or societies linked to your union.

If you decide to run for an officer position you’ll need to attend debates to outline what you’d do once elected. As an LGB student you’ll have valuable experience that you can offer and you can also be a strong role model to others.

You may decide to stand as an LGBT officer to represent and campaign for LGBT students - but holding any position - from women’s officer to health, sports or the presidency is a rewarding experience and will allow you to raise issues affecting LGB people in many different areas of student life.

Officer positions are either sabbatical (paid) or non-sabbatical (which you undertake voluntarily whilst still studying). In addition to individual students’ unions there’s an overarching National Union of Students - which is a confederation of over 600 students’ unions and represents the national voice for students.

www.studentsunionwebsites.co.uk 
www.nus.org.uk 
www.nus.org.uk/en/Campaigns/LGBT 

Joining a political party

Joining a political party as a member is a great way for you to be an active citizen and put your beliefs into action. You can attend local meetings, social events and conferences, campaign both locally and nationally and in many parties vote in decisions about the party and its policies. As a member you stand for positions of responsibility within the party such as treasurer or constituency chair.

Different political parties have different eligibility criteria, but most are open to anyone over 15 who’s a citizen or resident of the UK. Most parties usually charge a small joining fee or monthly subscription.

The main political parties in Britain are:

Many of the national parties also have youth branches:

Many of the main political parties have off-shoot groups or wings of the party which are specifically formed to campaign for LGB and T rights within their parties and in the UK.

Becoming a local councillor

Councillors are people elected to the local council to represent their local community. You can stand as an independent or as a representative of a political party. Becoming a councillor can be extremely rewarding, but it does require commitment and hard work. Councillors aren’t paid a salary but they are entitled to allowances and expenses to cover some of the costs of carrying out their duties.

To find out about becoming a councillor contact your local parish, community, town, borough, city, district or county council and browse the sites below.

www.beacouncillor.org.uk 
www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/UKgovernment/Localgovernment/DG_073312 

I’m a local councillor. I’ve been involved in politics since university and I’ve never considered my sexuality a barrier. The first gay person I really knew was a party activist (now a fellow councillor) so I really never had any concern on that front. I’m in politics because I believe passionately in liberty, aspiration and helping people achieve their potential.

I’ve made no attempt to hide my sexual orientation – I’ve commented on local blogs about Pride events and have posted pictures of Pride on my own blog. My twitter profile refers to my involvement with my party’s LGBT group and my group colleagues, the press and other parties locally are aware.

I don’t particularly want to draw attention to myself, because I’m in politics to work for the whole community. But I do think it’s important that young people have positive role models and that people with more traditional (I hesitate to brand them homophobic) views can see that actually we don’t just have a narrow sectional interest in gay rights, we have the same concerns and interests as everybody else and being gay is just one part of who we are.

Councillor Emma Warman, Reading Borough Council


Becoming a Member of Parliament

There are currently 650 MPs in Westminster - each representing constituencies across the UK. As an MP you start as a backbencher and sometimes gain a ministerial position where you’re responsible for a particular policy area. Being an MP involves representing and assisting your constituents, voting on legislation, deciding on policy and numerous other tasks. MPs receive an annual salary plus an allowance for staff and offices.

You can stand either as an independent or as a member of a political party - there are however no current MPs who were elected as independent candidates. If you are a member of a party you will, certain to their own criteria, be eligible for consideration as a candidate. If selected you will stand for election with the local electorate making the final decision of who should be their MP. 

Potential MPs need to be nominated for election by two registered voters from the constituency. This must be signed by eight other electors and submitted along with a deposit of £500 which is returned to candidates who get more than 5% of the votes cast.

Today there are more out lesbian, gay and bisexual MPs than ever before but numbers remain under-representative of the wider population and more are needed. As an openly lesbian or gay MP you could not only help counter the under-representation of gay people in Parliament but also, by raising your own experiences and those of your friends and family, ensure that the decisions made in parliament are as inclusive as possible.

Becoming a Member of the European Parliament

The United Kingdom elects 72 members to the European Parliament. The UK is divided into twelve regions with between three and ten MEPs for each region. Elections to the parliament take place every five years - the last elections were held on 4 June 2009.
 
You can stand either as an independent or as a representative of a political party. The main parties represented in the European Parliament from the UK are the Labour Party, the Conservatives, the UK Independence Party and the Liberal Democrats. If you are a member of a political party you can put yourself forward as an official candidate in European elections.

For more information on how to become an MEP, you can visit here.

Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly

Scotland and Wales both have devolved law making powers - meaning the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are responsible for a broad array of issues such as transport, housing, education and policing.

Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament is the law-making body for devolved matters in Scotland. Its areas of responsibility include education, health, law and order, housing and the environment. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) are elected by the people of Scotland through general elections, which are normally held every four years.

For information on becoming a Member of the Scottish Parliament you can visit the following sites:
www.scottish.parliament.uk 

www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/mspwork/documents/MSPs5thedFeb2010.pdf 

Welsh Assembly

The National Assembly for Wales is the devolved assembly with power to make legislation in Wales. The Assembly comprises of 60 elected members, who are known as Assembly Members, or AMs. Members are elected for four year terms.

The Assembly has the power to make laws on issues such as tourism, transport, housing, health and health services and the environment.

To find out more information about Wales check www.assemblywales.org/memhome/mem-work-become-mem/mem-become-member 

Pressure Groups and Think Tanks

Pressure groups and think tanks are similar to political parties but, rather than directly electing their own representatives, they instead try to effect change by lobbying political parties and figures on the issues that are important to their members.

Although independent, many groups are affiliated to a political party and their members are usually united by shared values. Pressure groups and think tanks provide forums for debate on the issues of the day and hold regular social events, lectures and meetings. 

Some affiliated/pressure groups:

Some pressure groups also have their own youth wings. Facebook groups are often the best way to stay in touch with their activities as websites can sometimes be out of date.

Trade Union Membership

Trade Unions campaign for a fairer deal at work for employees. This can cover a range of areas, from pay and job security, to combating bullying at work and promoting equality and diversity. Some of the larger Trade Unions are involved in negotiations with EU institutions, which issue many employment-related directives.

Most Trade Unions represent workers in specific professions - such as teaching, journalism, or transport workers. Members pay a regular membership fee, which entitles you to negotiated pay settlements and assistance if you encounter problems in your workplace, such as harassment or unfair dismissal. You can also get involved in the running of your Trade Union, for example by standing for a position on an Equalities Committee or on the National Executive Council.

Trade Unions can play an important role on issues such as tackling homophobia at work. Many Trade Unions have LGBT groups which campaign to improve the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the workplace. 

For more information and a list of Trade Unions, go to: www.tuc.org.uk/tuc/unions_main.cfm 


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