Go back to your constituencies and prepare for school!
Simon Carr is impressed – and depressed – by UK Youth Parliament
The Independent's parliamentary sketch writer and columnist since 2000, Simon Carr was described by Tony Blair as "the most vicious sketch writer working in Britain today". "Poison," said Charles Clarke. In the 1980s he helped launch The Independent, and was a speech writer for the prime minister of New Zealand from 1992 to 1994. His working principle is "Indignation keeps us young."
Saturday 05 November 2011
What self-possession they have, these delegates in the UK Youth Parliament.
The ease on their feet. MP Sir George Young was chatting to one in the House of Commons at lunch. "You spoke didn't you? Well done. Was it an ordeal?" The young man did not even consider this: "No, not really."
We closed our mouths again. He explained that they did it all the time. The chamber was impressive, but they were used to campaigning. A hostile audience might have been more alarming, but they all knew each other. "We keep in touch on Facebook," he said. What used to be Bugsy Malone for politicians is now a training camp for the political class.
I saw a group of four or five on the platform at Paddington and immediately clocked them. Not just by the way they were embracing and welcoming each other, not just by the underarm document wallet one carried or the clever hair and glasses of another, and not just by the 12-year-old boy wearing a suit. But by the whole package – a combination that could not be anything else that day.
You have to start early these days, and these children are laying the foundations for a lifelong career. Personally, I'm very much against it – and not just because I'm old and envious. I ask, again, that young people consider the merits of heroin addiction instead of "passionately working to make the world a better place".
Having said that, let me report the positive side. They are more attractive than you would expect politicians to be. They look much older than their years – some, indeed, seemed 30. The facial metal is discreet. Not one fiddled with his or her mobile in the chamber.
When one of them went on too long the rest didn't shout: "Sit down! Too long! Drivel!" – they just laughed and applauded when he left a gap. No one used the phrase "Shame on you!" And, being elected on a regional basis, there wasn't a particular party-based antipathy between them. The speeches were short. There was no jeering, heckling, or any obscene gestures – even from Wallasey MP Angela Eagle, who addressed them early on.
In delivery, the front bench speeches weren't at all bad. Harrison Carter had a textured voice and intimate manner that gave him weight beyond his years; Alec Howells, who lives in Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg's constituency, had been well-schooled there. Mu-Hamid Pathan stood for mayor in the East Midlands at the age of 18, and will probably get somewhere as he has no idea when to stop. Alex Huston had a good crack at demanding that MPs pay back the cost of their university fees.
From the floor, the best received speech came from a tall, mature-looking student in Islamic dress who thanked the youth workers for their support and encouragement.
There was a young woman with a headband, who reminded us all of the young John Bercow as she bounced to her feet. And a young man with Frank Zappa hair gave us a performance of complex irony and theatrical passion, which cheered everyone up.
Having said that, the X Factor noises the delegates made were thoroughly nauseating. They have a new whoop – short and sharp like a police car right behind you. And another one like a long blast of a train whistle. They are produced when anyone popular sits down.
Also – the language they use and the things they say sound depressingly familiar. The new generation pays homage, without irony, to its elders. I suppose that's where the jobs are. Thus we hear, "It is our duty to. It is imperative that. I was aghast. It cannot continue. The catastrophic effect of this budget. Let's work together. Removing child poverty will ensure ..."
To hear someone too young to vote saying "my constituents" causes quite a surge in the lower throat. More important, they have no idea whether what they are saying is true. "The money for the High Speed project can be better spent elsewhere." Oh, really? How do you know that, mush? "Global warming is the greatest challenge mankind has ever faced." Sure about that, sonny?
Here's the depressing thing. While the manner wasn't actually as good as an average Commons debate, neither was it much worse. And that's a terrible thing to say about the average Commons debate.
These young people have opinions about things. They've been encouraged to think it's a good thing to have opinions. They are applauded for their passion and commitment – but it comes down to coming together to tell everyone else what to do. That's the game.
So look at them and mock them for talking outside their circumference of knowledge – and then realise that our leaders (though vastly more informed and experienced) are guilty of precisely the same on a very much larger scale.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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