At 10am on the 23rd of November, over 100 young people from all over the UK, arrived at the House of Commons on a day which went on to become an unforgettable experience for all. This was the day which marked the ending of an intense campaign - Make Your Mark - which saw over 250,000 young people vote on what they felt was their top issue from a selection chosen at the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) Annual Sitting in Nottingham this year. The House of Commons was soon to be filled with young people, all debating the top five issues.
There was an incredible air of excitement in the run up to the day, especially on social network sites such as Twitter, which exploded with excited tweets ready for #UKYPHoC. And as young people piled into London, filling trains and coaches, it seemed that there was no more time for preparation, the big day had arrived.
As everyone took their seats on those famous green benches in the beautiful chamber, I was lucky enough to be sitting in the public gallery watching as all the Members of Youth Parliament (MYP), including Wigan’s very own Daniel Gilmore and Deputy Member Obi Oderinde, prepared for the debates to start. As always the debates were chaired by the legendary speaker, John Bercow. And of course everyone was itching to speak.
This year the UKYP would debate on 5 issues covering public transport, national minimum wage for all, a curriculum to prepare us for life, equal marriage for all and whether or not schools should have a week of compulsory work experience. Young people from all over the UK would lead the debates, and then the floor would be opened for others to speak. I was very proud to see that both Daniel and Obi were chosen and given the chance to speak within the House on national TV, with Daniel making a point regarding national minimum wage and Obi discussing public transport- as both represented YOUR views.
As the MYPs left for a quick lunch, (a wonderful array of sandwiches, I might add) I wanted to catch Obi to see just what this day meant to him - “This is easily one of the greatest things I have ever done, and I know nothing will ever compare to it. It’s a great feeling to be able see that what you are doing will lead to positive changes being made all over the UK”.
Sitting in the gallery as a mentor and deputy youth worker gave me a really interesting view on the day. There was an incredible sense of pride from all the youth workers, especially when someone they knew stood to speak. There were cheers and rounds of applause as the young people made strong, confident and well-informed speeches. At times they definitely put the adult MPs to shame.
All of the debates were well argued and gave MYPs a difficult choice to make as they left the chamber to vote on what would then become the national campaign for 2012/2013. Finally, the votes were in and there was a tense moment while we waited for John Bercow to return with the results. And with a tremendous 154 votes, the next national campaign for UKYP was announced as ’A curriculum to prepare us for life’, which will see MYPs campaign for changes to the national curriculum, changes which would include better sex and relationship education and the involvement of political and financial education within schools.
Overall it was a fantastic experience for all. Some of the speeches were incredibly inspiring and some employed humour to win us all over, including a boy who led the opposition speech of the equal marriage debate, opening with “As someone who has not even had my first proper snog, yet, I’m not sure I can comment on love”. As always, these young people conducted themselves incredibly well and Daniel and Obi in particular looked very smart as they sat on the famous green benches and spoke eloquently to represent the young people of Wigan and Leigh. As we left the chamber, and stood to take pictures by Big Ben, we all reflected on the day’s events, I was keen to speak to Daniel to see just how he felt it had gone -“I found the trip to be very interesting, especially learning about different viewpoints of young people, from our work visiting young people in Wigan and nationally by attending the debate.”
It was quite clear as I stood under the dimmed city lights; the grass (and the benches) really are greener on the MP’s side.
By Jilly McKiernan