Would visiting Parliament inspire you to vote?

By Michael Cowan
BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme

  • Published
Media caption,

Can you convince people to vote in one day?

With a general election weeks away, figures suggest voter apathy remains unchanged. Two women who don't like politics paid a visit to Parliament, but did it convince them to vote?

"I feel like politicians make decisions for people they don't know anything about," says LaTifah Atkinson, a 26-year-old woman from north London.

She is a university graduate who runs her own business. She has never voted.

"I currently don't vote because I don't understand what I'm voting for," she says.

Fellow businesswoman, Chiara Stone, a 36-year-old mother of two, is also disaffected by politics.

She says MPs are not worth what they earn.

"I don't think we feel Parliament does represent us because we don't understand how it works," she says.

She is not alone. A third of people eligible to vote didn't cast a vote in the last general election.

According to new parliamentary research, two-thirds of people aged 18 to 34 feel they know little or nothing about Parliament.

Beyond the act of voting, the British public are "no more politically engaged this year than last" - despite last year's EU referendum - it suggests.

So what can be done?

The BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme took LaTifah and Chiara to Parliament for a day. It turned out to be the day Theresa May sought to call a general election.

Image caption,
Iain Duncan Smith said the Commons can be a "bear pit"

First stop was the House of Commons, for a tour with veteran Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith and a seat to watch that day's debate.

Both women said the infighting, the hustle and bustle, and even the way MPs addressed each other left them confused and alienated.

'Twitter feed'

"You don't really have much faith in them when they are in the House of Commons having a debate and they look bored," she added.

"How am I supposed to be interested if you look obviously bored and you're scrolling through your Twitter feed in the debate?"

"I think it is in Parliament's interests to get more people voting," Chiara added.

"And I think if you want to get more people voting then you need to make it accessible for them in this modern age.

"I think the problem is that so much of it is steeped in so much tradition and history, which is quite British, but then you also have to move with the times."

Image caption,
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said politics mattered

After that, the pair were able to sit down with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

"Do you feel Parliament represents you?" he asked.

"I suppose no, we don't really think it represents us," Chiara said.

"Politics affects lives," he added.

He told LaTifah: "You've had a housing issue, that's a political decision. It's a political decision to build council housing, or not. It's a political decision to regulate rents, or not.

"That's politics. Politics matters."

'Intimidating' place

Mr Corbyn has been an MP for 34 years. But for new MPs, joining the Commons can be just as overwhelming as visiting on a day trip.

The SNP's Hannah Bardell - one of Westminster's newest MPs who joined the Commons in 2015 - says even new MPs can be left in a daze by the workings of Parliament.

"It was quite intimidating and quite emotional. I spent a lot of time getting lost," she says of her first few days.

"This place is designed to intimidate you and I think a lot of us just thought, 'No, we're not going to be intimidated, we're here to do a job and do our best.'"

Image caption,
The SNP's Hannah Bardell is one of Parliament's newest MPs

The final stop was a trip to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to hear business leaders give evidence about the impact of Brexit.

"We've had sessions talking about the film industry, to people in television and today we were talking to people in the fashion industry," Tory MP Damian Collins, who chairs the committee, says.

"We can hold inquiries or hold hearings on any issue that is related to the work of that government department. What we try to do is look at the issues and then decide as a group what is the right thing to do."

'It is complex'

So did it work?

"It was better than I thought it would be," LaTifah says, with Big Ben looming behind her.

"I do know who I would vote for and being here today, I can say that I would confidently vote for the first time in 26 years."

"It was massively different to how I thought it would be. I've come away now feeling that I have a good grasp of how politics works. But it is complex," Chiara added.

Image source, Getty Images

But she says she is still baffled by the behaviour of MPs in the Commons.

"It is just really hard to follow, all the language and the traditions they use, it didn't really make much sense."

They both said they have a great appreciation of what the role of an MP entails.

"But I also feel that it is a two-way street," LaTifah says.

"It is not just about the politicians and what happens in Parliament, it is about the public and the people doing their part as well.

"If we don't challenge MPs, they can't make changes on our behalf."

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.