I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenny Imafidon, a 22 year old political commentator and social entrepreneur from South London. He is the co – founder and managing director of Clear View Research Ltd – a youth led research consultancy, heads up the research and advocacy team at Bite the Ballot and author of The Kenny Reports- a series of reports which voice the concerns of many young people across the UK.
And if that is not sufficiently impressive, Kenny has won several awards for his work including (Runner up) for Peacemaker of the year award in 2014 with the Anne Frank Trust and recipient of the Amos Bursary – Community Engagement Award 2015.
A number of important political events will take place this summer including the elections for the Mayor of London and Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales in May and the EU referendum in June.
I spoke to Kenny to find out his views on the need to engage more young people, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities and other marginalised groups in the political system; women in politics and an exciting ‘Tinder style’ app he designed to encourage young Londoners to vote in the Mayoral elections.
Question: Why do you think there is such a lack of engagement amongst some groups, specifically BAME communities and young people in regards to political system?
There are many people who have gone through the education system who have not acquired a basic understanding of politics, how the world around them works and what it means to be a citizen. And it’s understandable especially if political education is not being taught in schools (it’s not compulsory) and the quality of citizenship classes given is inadequate.
Outside of the classroom politics is not very accessible either. There are a number of barriers to engagement. Firstly, the use of political jargon spoken by politicians can be alienating. Secondly, the lack of diversity in parliament is a problem. The political system is very elitist and is overrepresented by those who are privately educated (1/4 are from Oxbridge), white, middle class men over 50. Finally many- young people especially – simply do not have the confidence or understanding to engage with the political system, which again comes down to a lack of political literacy.
Question: You cited the lack of diversity in parliament as a barrier for participation. I recall reading somewhere that there are currently 41 BAME MPs out of 650 MPs but if it were to be truly representative of society, then at least double the number would be needed (84). Similarly for women, you would need 1.5 times the current amount (191 ). Why do think there is a lack of diversity?
Let’s just look at the representation of women for example. If approximately 1 in 3 MPs are women, yet women are the majority in society (51%) then this problematic, because it is not representative. Women are marginalised in the political system because it is essentially elitist. Women only got the right to vote through the Suffrage movement – less than 100 years ago (1918 for over 30’s and 1928 for under 30s respectively). For a long time, men honestly felt women were incapable of thinking for themselves, therefore needing men to think for them.
Even today there is significant evidence to suggest sexism still exists in parliament, leaving many women feeling undermined. This doesn’t make professional politics attractive to a lot of women. Especially if they feel they have to compromise who they are such as abandoning the stereotypical concept of ‘femininity’ for example, to be more stern or ‘masculine’ to be taken seriously. People should be free to be and behave however they want.
Also in terms of wider representation, diversity is needed at every level politically; even though an MP is the highest form of public service, we should not neglect the importance of councillors who operate at a local level.
Question: I grew up on a council estate which was incredibly culturally diverse. A lot of people I came across were very passionate about issues at a local level but this did not necessarily translate at a national level (I.e. Going to vote). This seems to be the case with a number of my peers. How do you go about harnessing the power of local communities who are passionate abut the issues but are disengaged from the wider political system?
A lot of reform is needed in the political system. When you don’t understand the system you won’t know how to change it to make it work in your favour which can be off putting. We currently have a First Past the Post system and there is much debate as to whether or not it is the fairest. This has led to a feeling of disillusionment amongst some people because they simply feel like their vote won’t make a difference. As an individual, you have limited power but collectively we are very powerful.
Let’s take BAME communities as an example. They have significant untapped voting power. At the last election approximately 168 seats ( equivalent to1 in 4 MPs) were marginal which BAME communities could have swung in their favour had they voted in full capacity. Some seats were won by a margin of just 4 which just shows you the importance of voting. We need to be tactical and have an understanding of the voting system in order to change it.
Experts predict that in places like London, BAME communities will make up half of the population by 2030 and by 2050, at a national level, constitute more than a quarter. The BAME population is growing and will continue to have significant political power in the future.
A group which arguably has the most power is the non-voters, who outnumber those who do actually vote. By not voting, these people are doing exactly what the elites expect, making it easier for them to assume power. Non-voters need to be actively targeted. Research shows these groups are not as ideologically wedded as it is often assumed; they can be persuaded if properly engaged.
Question: The London mayoral elections are less than a week away. What are your thoughts on it?
I feel the London mayoral elections has been partially drowned out by the noise of EU referendum. I also think lack of publicity around it could affect voter turnout. On average voter turn out for the London Mayoral Election has been about 39%, which is just over 1 in 3 people. This is relatively low.
Young people and those who are hard to reach are not being mobilised in anyway and I don’t think the campaign has been very exciting.
Question: How do you think the London Mayoral elections could be made more exciting then?
Young people are drawn to authenticity- this is a big part of making something exciting and engaging. Just look at the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon. He is not a young person or someone you would necessarily expect to capture young people’s attention but he has. Jeremy Corbyn comes across as someone who is authentic and can be trusted.
It seems that all politicians do at the moment is put leaflets through people’s letter boxes; Zac Goldsmith MP got that wrong. This is not enough; candidates need to engage people, particularly young people by being different, authentic and bold.
Question: You created an App to encourage participation amongst young people and marginalised communities in regards to the London Mayoral Elections. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
I designed the app Verto, because even if you manage to get people interested in voting, the next focus is who do I vote for now?
The app was designed to work for the millennial generation; incorporating gamification techniques and is issues based (the questions are grouped under topics). The app also includes a glossary which can be referred to if you come across a word you don’t understand.
We also made sure that the app did not need to be downloaded in order to be used; research shows as soon as you make this a prerequisite, you put people off.
It is sophisticated in that you are not simply asked questions to determine if you are ‘left’ or ‘right’ of the political spectrum; it is much more nuanced. For example, you could be left wing on education and right wing on crime, and then use the results to determine where you should vote based on alignment with specific policies.
We had a small, intimate pre- launch event for Verto London at Twitter earlier this year and invited about 150 people including family, friends and several influential YouTubers.
We originally launched the app for last year’s General Election and had a positive public response. The app had 460,000 users of which 389,000 were unique users; of the 389,000 unique users 46% were 18-34 and 54% were female. We didn’t have an initial target of how many people we wanted to reach but were very clear that young people were our primary audience. Last year we worked with a range of partners including Cosmopolitan magazine, Channel 4 and the Independent newspaper to promote the app which played a key part in raising awareness.
In London, there are approximately 1.1 million 16-25 and this is our main target (although those under 18 can’t vote). It’s still too early to find out how the app is progressing in terms of reaching our target audience but our hope is to engage as many people and possible, especially young people and marginalised groups, ahead of the London mayoral elections.
To find our more about Verto London visit here.