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!

Why Ask Why?

To wade through discussions concerning the recent crisis on Europe’s borders appears somewhat futile at the moment, as any symposium ends in a quagmire of terminology, cross-questioning and accusations of media bias. A beautiful sense of inevitability pervades each and every debate, from the sublimely eloquent to the ridiculously short-sighted, hence my willingness to clear up any issues of this kind before the next few paragraphs present themselves further down the page. Unfortunately, this simple piece of clarification takes an entire article to justify and explore.

Displaced from their war-torn home and fleeing the land of their Fathers, fatigued Syrians who cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of a new life are, unquestionably, refugees. Their bravery should be commended, their needs met, their treatment free from the shackles of bureaucracy and intolerance. Conversely, when this flock pitches tents at Calais and embarks on nightly raids to thwart our borders and enter Britain illegally, reclassification becomes necessary. Across the English Channel, a tidal wave of migrants pushed security to breaking point by means of criminal damage and a callous disregard for the nation state, threatening the prospect of asylum in the prosperous continent which encompassed it. The determination to travel from developed country to developed country, and the contrast between these environments and those of desolate African cities, fuels this change of language.

However, such assertions must be handled with great care, and there’s another basic question which the media never quite got to the root of: why here? More specifically, why did the prospect of life in France appear so awful that a score of prospective immigrants risked limb and liberty through the Channel Tunnel? Perhaps the British should turn their backs on this curious demonstration of resolve, wave the Union Flag and utter pride in their status as prominent standard-bearers. But exactly why migrants would express such a firm desire to find themselves in one particular first-world democracy rather than the somewhat more geographically convenient options of Continental Europe still isn’t very clear. Blissful ignorance is hardly the way forward.

It would seem there’s a wide range of reasons. The questionable legacy of the Empire and our more recent military actions must feature somewhere among them, a burden that must be shouldered forevermore. It’s also conceivable that Britain’s pitiful intake of asylum-seekers was badly misjudged: five-million human beings need a new place to call home, but the Essential Relationship binding Cameron and Obama appears to have paid attention to only a tiny fraction of these desperate pleas. And while they talk the talk of international cooperation, a widespread, comprehensive strategy seems as distant as ever.

Nevertheless, the two most significant motives which spring to mind ring a little too true of the Daily Mail for comfort: “the evils of excessive benefits and the dangers of health tourism brought on by the NHS,” as that tabloid might well put it. Within these foremost aspects of state Socialism, it may be possible to decipher part of the solution to the elusive conundrum with which politicians and journalists alike have been faced. It’s true that British welfare claimants receive two to three times what their European counterparts would, and that a publically funded healthcare system opens loopholes for shady misuse. But they’re also terrific institutions to be proud of, and certainly don’t provide the whole picture. Nothing does.

The significance of asking “why” must never be underestimated, nor the power of questioning all that we see or hear. It’s also a principle which appears to be lacking in the age of spoon-fed opinion and received wisdom, and one which we must recapitulate to gain a lucid perspective of life, the universe and everything.

I found myself seated in the stalls of the Barbican a few days ago as one Benedict Cumberbatch immersed himself in the trials and tribulations of Hamlet. The emotive brilliance of his portrayal was matched only by an unexpected plea for solidarity and compassion in Europe which closed the matinee: this inspired me to pen the article above. While in London, I was informed that the new transport campaign which was set to feature in last week’s article was facing teething problems, and I’d have to delay publication. That’s why it all went silent for a while, but I don’t intend to make it a habit in any sense of the word! NK