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.