‘If you don’t do politics, politics will do you!’
That’s the evocative catchphrase of one of Plexal’s longest-term denizens My Life My Say (MLMS), a charity on a mission to empower marginalised youth to engage in democracy run by Mete Coban, Labour councillor for Hackney. And it’s true: in a world where 75% of Texas-under-30s did not vote in their recent mid-term elections, political apathy among young voters is undeniably a huge issue.
Apathy was the key theme of the ‘The Future of Britain: Next Generation Conference’ on Saturday 10th December held at Plexal Stratford. MLMS hold an annual conference and this year it ran in partnership with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, bringing together young people with political leaders, activists and experts to discuss issues most pressing to them. Hundreds attended, giving a fantastic buzz of energy in Plexal Park and Centre Stage throughout the event.
Tony Blair’s keynote on the Future of Democracy
The day started strong with a surprise keynote speech on the Future of Democracy from Tony Blair himself. He reinforced the essential role young people have in securing our future, advised future politicians to spend time in a ‘real world’ job first and highlighted the importance of having strong principles that you stick to in power. “We need a new energy in our politics that’s got to be about finding the right answers” he told Mete, while also highlighting Plexal and Here East as proof of the efficacy of regeneration projects.
Make It Make Sense Panel
The keynote was followed by a Make it Make Sense panel all about the inner workings of democratic systems, featuring:
- Mete Coban, Founder and CEO, My Life My Say
- Andrew Roughan, CEO, Plexal
- Alice Cappelle, YouTuber
- Anya James, teacher and Senior Education Advisor to Hackney Council
- Ryan Wain, Executive Director of Politics, Institute for Global Change
- Justin Hansford, Law Professor, Howard University
The panellists dived deep into the practical implications of democracy and how they and others take advantage of it. They also discussed issues surrounding democracy and voting, and the pros and cons of various suggestions for mitigating them.
Having concluded the morning’s panels, the conference split up several into breakout sessions and Democracy Cafés on a range of urgent issues facing Britain including climate change, rapidly advancing technologies, the mental health impact of the cost of living crisis and more. Lots of in-depth discussions were sparked all across Plexal, with plenty of opportunities for visitors to seek out a particular discussion and get engaged with questions and observations.
Future of the Planet Discussion
As the afternoon moved on, everyone re-convened Centre Stage for the second major panel discussion on the Future of the Planet. Mete was once again joined by an excellent group of panellists:
- Emma de Saram, Climate and animal justice activist
- Daniel Newport, Head of Net Zero, Institute for Global Change
- Professor Charlotte Croffie, Pro Vice-Chancellor for EDI, Loughborough University
- Karl Brown, CEO and Co-founder, Curv
- Swarzy Macaly, TV and radio host
The discussion focused on responsibility, both personal and collective. The panellists talked about what they do individually to positively impact our societal trajectory and shared informed ways for others to get involved. It was an introspective chat about where we’re headed, ranging from social issues like equality and diversity to managing the possibility of an upcoming climate catastrophe.
With the conference drawing to a close, artist and poet Chloe Carterr inspired us all with a spoken word performance of her poetry, exploring themes of self love, relationships, empowerment, identity, mental health and vulnerability. It was a beautiful set of reflections on which to end an event brimming with positive energy and optimism.