Simon Carr: The kids were all right (and knew as much as our MPs)


When they walked in, the members of the UK Youth Parliament, my younger colleagues in the Gallery became wonderfully blimpish.

"He's wearing jeans! Is that a skirt or a belt? A rucksack, look, he's carrying a rucksack! Oh come on, that one's 10 years old! It's half-term, shouldn't they be out shoplifting? Look at that big unit, he'll need two constituencies! Good God, David Miliband!"

And when he says "Order!", they'll be like, "You're not my Mum!"

"Be nice, be nice," one nice lady said, after asking what it had been like.

How does that work? Nice. All right. They looked fresh, spoke confidently and had a touching eagerness to be part of the hoary old system. There were lots of girls, many different races, and a diverse dress code. They seemed sort of non-partisan. They were polite and clapped a lot. And all deserved their certificate for enjoying the day.

It may be what the new parliament looks like. It may sound like it, too. They were new to politics, or new to the Commons. They used the old forms, some with 19th- century flourishes, others with phrases like: "We must never be complacent." (I'm grinding my teeth a bit now).

They didn't really know anything about anything, or what they were doing there, or how little attention they would attract. That was all very lifelike. But I can feel my grip slipping, I fear.

Some of them mentioned the deficit. Or the best way out of the recession. Or the benign effects of prison. Or the fact that "much of the City is socially useless". One 15-year-old said "my constituents". Another referred to "my fellow MPs". And there it was, the familiar nauseation.

But, truth to tell, they were the equal in significance to any of Thursday's topical debates.

The awful thing was – they sounded okay. They may or may not have known the best way out of the recession, but then Ronnie Campbell and Andrew Dismore don't know either.

Is prison good or bad? Hugo Swire or Barry Gardiner can't be relied on any more than Jennings and Derbyshire yesterday. The actual MPs would have more figures or stats or soundbites – but mostly they wouldn't know any more about any particular thing outside their subject than the children.

Ignorance, these days, is no bar to having an opinion. The kids are in politics. And the politicians are delighted. They have been hanging around the school gates and have managed to get a whole new generation hooked.

Two causes for concern. None of the palace officers had a CRB certificate. How 400 school children got in and out without having been penetrated by one of our bestockinged, wand-waving, silver-wigged servants is frankly amazing.

Second: Speaker Bercow came a frightful cropper.

"I am imperfect but I have done my best," he said to a point of order from a Scots boy (who'd been sickened). The room went wild for Bercow with whooping, cheering, and a standing ovation. He was quite overcome.

So overcome that he quite lost his head. He was saying one minute that Speakers were above party politics and that they didn't get involved in controversy. The next minute he was calling one of the country's parties a "scourge", and "evil" and "driven by hate" and depending on "ignorance and apathy". What happens if the BNP were to actually get a seat in Westminster?

Children are let into the Chamber "to make a difference". And they certainly do. If only to the Speaker's reputation.