Democracy in Action – UK Parliament Week

To briefly descend into twee verbiage, “children are the future”. But typically, if you cast a cursory eye over the hordes of teeming teenagers, you’d be forgiven for not being overwhelmed with hope. Fortunately, kicking off the events for Parliament Week, the Democracy in Action event in Bournemouth this past Friday goes some way to inspiring a bit more confidence in the future. 

Hosted in the heart of Bournemouth’s local government and curated by Christopher Mayne, Mayor of Bournemouth, attendees were graced by the presence of a bevvy of local politicians, from a range of political institutions. Joining the proceedings was Annette Brooke, Lib Dem MP for Mid-Dorset and North Poole; Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for East Bournemouth; Julie Girling Conservative MEP for South-West and Gibraltar; Jane Kelly, Councillor for Boscombe West and Vikki Slade Councillor for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and future Lib Dem candidate in the May 2015 election.

Following a presentation by the Parliamentary Outreach team, the guests sat down to debate three topics; a referendum on EU membership, whether the main parties response to UKIP ascendancy has been adequate and whether homelessness in Bournemouth has equally been adequately dealt with. After the guest representatives had made their respective points, the floor was open for the students to field questions. Whilst political debate over matters of Europe, UKIP and the homeless are always worth discussing at the best of times, as they are crucial topics, what we are more interested in how the students of Bournemouth engaged with these political debates. And it was during these debates that they demonstrated an admirable awareness and enthusiasm.

A heavy emphasis on the theme of engagement pertained throughout the day. Whilst the event itself was aimed at encouraging further involvement of young people in politics, the general idea of losing out through non-participation and the consequences of non-engagement were evident in conversations on every topic. As Mrs Slade stated, the last election had a 52% turnout within the young demographic, which is what makes this kind of event all the more important. Whether it was making your voice heard on the subject of the EU, letting UKIP gain more power or walking past the homeless without a second glance, the dangers of non-involvement were made clear. 

Additionally, another recurring theme was that of people being uninformed on important issues, which is made all the more dangerous when they are required to vote on matters that determine the future of the country. Whilst Mrs Girling did express that there was an increased interest in the EU, the vast majority of the population still don’t really understand its significance. That is what makes UKIP, some might say, particularly dangerous.

The presence of almost all forms of democratic representation was heavily emphasised by the variety of topics up for debate. Whilst homelessness may not be the most exotic and exciting of topics, it is perhaps one that strikes closest to home. Students would explain that they themselves have met, on a number of occasions, the same “rough sleepers”, whereas only a select few had been to the Houses of Parliament or even the centre of the EU in Brussels. This “closer to home” effect seemed to encourage a more empathetic approach to questions and when it came to voting one way or the other, the topic proved to be the most divisive.

Another topic that seemed to strike a chord with both the pupils and guests was that of the presence of politics within the media. Following a question from Amber Williams on the lack of influence of the UK, both Mr Ellwood and Mrs Girling expressed their frustration that the apparent ineffectiveness of the UK and David Cameron is an effect of the lack of coverage of the successes of politics. This, in a way, ties in with the final debate of the afternoon; that of homelessness in Bournemouth. Whilst of course it is not a topic that gets the same national media coverage as the EU or UKIP, it was apparent that there was a lack of knowledge on the subject. Fortunately, Councillor Jane Kelly was able to explain precisely what the plan of action for dealing with homelessness was, even defending the apparent closure of the local night shelter from Mr Ellwood.

Clearly, if this afternoon demonstrates anything, it’s that the engagement and interest of the public at large, especially the young, is critical for the success of future politics. Certainly, they may not always be in possession of all the facts, but the young adults of today are much better informed than some of their older counterparts. And further events like this are only going to serve to better inform and encourage the young to participate in the political process. Whilst the topic was not specifically discussed to any great depth, one of the elements of the event was that of the online presence. Attendees were provided with cards encouraging them to vote using hashtags about the issues that mattered most to them. True they may be unable to vote just yet, but the use of the internet, hashtag campaigns and whatever the internet comes up with next is an effective way to muster support for issues. The ways of the internet may be lost on certain members of the current generation, yet the students and pupils of today are growing up with the internet as a matter of fact. And lest any terrible nuclear apocalypse change this, the internet is here to stay and its importance in politics will only grow. 

Special thanks should be given to Samantha Acton, the organiser and driving force behind the event, the Parliamentary Outreach team provided an excellent presentation on the workings and structure. Additionally,  the support and partnership of Bournemouth Town Council, the Bournemouth Chamber for Trade and Commerce, as well as the guests for making special time to participate in proceedings.

For more information, visit any of the following:

Parliament Week Home

Relevant Twitters

Parliament Week

Bournemouth Parliament Week Twitter Account

Vikki Slade

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