First Among Equals

I take up my pen to write these few paragraphs before my previous installment is unleashed upon the famished beavers of the internet. But, with the benefit of careful preparation, I anticipate a pretty large chorus of fury directed against my aimless ramblings. With the UK Youth Parliament’s 2015 Parliamentary sitting coming to a television set near you, it might be worth finding out exactly which motions are set to be proposed. Accordingly, here they are.

Mental Health rose to prominence on the youth politics agenda recently, invigorated by a number of high-profile campaigns and news stories: it appears that this aspect of personal well-being has been downtrodden by the NHS, with adolescents bearing the brunt. To challenge this hidden menace, stereotypes could be confronted through education and services improved with the aid of young people themselves. Despite the sheer scale of the crisis, I fully support the UK Youth Parliament crusade to tackle Mental Health head-on.

The prospect of a Living Wage was a welcome feature of George Osborne’s most recent budget, one which will enable many more hardworking Britons to live comfortably and impose fewer demands on the Welfare State. But this new level of minimum earnings may still be inadequate, and it only applies to those for whom the threshold of adulthood is seven years in the past. So though I might dispute the precise level of this new lowest income for the gainfully employed, and feel that it should not be applicable in all circumstances, I agree that the Living Wage must take effect at an earlier age in the name of fairness and equality.

A Curriculum to Prepare Young People for Life is a cause of which I was a loyal supporter throughout my years in youth politics, and I rally behind that metatextural banner to this day. For too long, schools have peddled the agenda of endless examinations and tedious Citizenship Education without due care and attention for the aptitudes and abilities which truly matter. Finance, politics and employment should feature in a new, comprehensive curriculum of life skills to ensure that young people are sufficiently equipped for the trials and tribulations of modern society. Once again, I hope this issue finds favour in the Commons and forms the backbone of UK Youth Parliament activities in 2016.

Tackling Racism and Religious Discrimination, particularly against people who are Muslim or Jewish, is the somewhat convoluted title of the penultimate motion, and I feel troubled by the apparent focus on two faith groups rather than a broader spotlight under which all may be united. Furthermore, the absence of striking originality in subject matter may render any distinctive campaigning extremely difficult. Therefore, in spite of my support for the cause in general terms, I don’t feel it will translate into a suitably impactful topic for the UK Youth Parliament to cover. The final issue to be discussed is Transport, soon to be the subject of an exciting new movement in Tyne and Wear which I’ll discuss in a later article.

This balanced diet of themes will, most certainly, fuel an exceptionally productive year for my old teammates, and I’m positive they’ll pick the right ideas in the end. Be sure to tune in for a fantastic hour of political discussion!

See the Conquering Hero Comes

While the 55th British Parliament debated motions and challenged Her Majesty’s Government, an extraordinary development occurred: Buckingham MP John Bercow became the darling of up-and-coming political activists across the land. His memorable anecdotes, progressive outlook and willingness to attend each and every UK Youth Parliament sitting endeared a happy few to the House of Commons’ charismatic Speaker. Myths and legends thrived in the great man’s shadow, and many persist to this moment. For instance, it has been claimed he invented the wheel, mapped the Heavens, saved the dodo and single-handedly destroyed the Berlin Wall. Once, he even triumphed in a bare-knuckle match against John Prescott – but that particular assertion is somewhat disputed.

Campus universities and lecture theatres have played host to his orations, a prelude to the yearly UKYP sessions conducted within the hallowed halls of Westminster. But attaining this privilege for elected young people was a difficult battle for our intrepid protagonist, forming the basis of perhaps his best-known yarn. It is a speech loved and cherished among his disciples. It is a speech held in greater esteem than any other he has given. It is a speech which quotes directly from the backlash against equality and righteousness, and one which has sent a chill down the spines of an entire generation of Youth Parliamentarians.

“You mark my words, Mr Speaker: as those teenagers leave the Chamber, you will find chewing gum fixed to the green benches which I love. There will be litter strewn across the floor and the marks of pen knives etched into leather. This House is for the use of Members of Parliament only.”

I can only assume that the remark concerning “litter strewn across the floor” was something of a self-referential point, a final gasp emanating from the iota of wit which remained. Ripostes to this display of unadulterated prejudice have since become a battle cry for the rights of the next generation, rising up to make their voices heard. Indeed, the last few years have seen the UK Youth Parliament go from strength to strength, defying all doubters and retaining its privileges in a ballot earlier this year.

On the rather unfortunate date of Friday the 13th, the day of reckoning will come once again. Following a national consultation which returned nearly a million ballots, droves of young people will descend on the Palace of Westminster and set about the issues of the day, live on BBC Parliament. First, a dialogue on the significance of the Magna Carta, but that’s just the beginning. Five potential campaigns are laid before the House as topics of intense debate and discourse, each proposed and opposed at the Dispatch box before a decision is finally reached. An accomplished display of democracy in action: of the people, by the people, for the people. And Members of Parliament can but look on with envious eyes.

An exception to this rule is the noble ‘Johnny B’ himself, who watches over proceedings with the relentless joviality and good humour of a King at court, calling his merry citizens to the hot seat as they bob up and down for his pleasure like deluded whack-a-moles. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, from a rousing rendition of ‘The Blaydon Races’ at King’s Cross Station to the furious waving of handkerchiefs which marked the conclusion of debating. Once again, I wish my successors the very best of luck – I’m sure it’ll be marvellous.