Thursday, 10 February 2011

Youth Parliament

Last Saturday I attended the final of the Youth Parliament elections for Cornwall. It is a great initiative which gives young people a taste of democracy and politics but, most important of all, can help develop their confidence through public speaking.

For me it brought back memories of the first time I spoke in public. I had just turned 16 and had been bounced into representing Praze Young Farmers in a speaking competition at Lostwithiel. I can remember wondering what I had let myself in for but I had some excellent coaching from Beatrice Dyer of Camborne School and never looked back.

For many people, politics is a dirty word. At the last election, the thing I found depressing was meeting people who said they couldn’t be bothered to vote. Complacency, apathy and antipathy all weaken our democracy and we should resist them. The truth is that our democratic political system is far better than the alternatives. I remember ten years ago going to Eastern Europe and seeing the enthusiasm and vibrancy of those new democracies with high turnouts and new parties starting from scratch. They had experienced the alternative so valued their newly established democratic politics.

By its nature, politics is about the art of the possible seeking to balance conflicting and competing interests. The government sets an agenda it thinks is right but it has to carry the support of its MPs. MPs will do what they think is right but are very mindful of the views of their constituents and frequently apply private pressure on their government. It is not easy to change things overnight but that is for a good reason: any new policy introduced will have unintended consequences which need to be considered in advance. But where change is required, it can always be delivered and when voters get tired of any government, they know how to fire them. The ability to fire a government that has run its course is one of the main reasons we should keep our current voting system and say ‘no’ to AV in May’s referendum.

There are things we could do to strengthen our democracy. I think there should be more free votes in parliament where party whips step back and encourage MPs make up their own mind more often. The reason the current party system developed is that, in its absence, no one could agree or get anything done. But a loosening of party dividing lines in some circumstances would be beneficial, especially when it comes to scrutinising laws.

Everyone has a role in making a democracy successful from those who join parties to those who write to their MP. So congratulations to all those who participated in this year’s Youth Parliament competition including Jamie Long who represented Camborne and especially Amy Greygoose and Kyle McGill who were elected to represent West Cornwall.