So, November ends and the run-up to Christmas well and truly begins, with politicians everywhere hoping this will be an un-eventful, happy holiday season for their parties- even though any such lack of event seems like a fanciful Christmas wish, rather than a realistic possibility. The outlook at Backbench seems a little more positive however, as there could have been no better build up to the Christmas period than the events of these past couple of weeks, which have shown everyone here how much politics genuinely and deeply matters to so many young people in this country.
I am of course referring to the Youth Parliament House of Commons debates which occurred on the 23rd November and shone the political spotlight directly upon youth participation. I don’t want to focus on the debates themselves too heavily, as I realise many of the individuals who participated have described the experience in much more prevalent terms than I could ever use, but I do want to say how much of an inspiration all the members of the Youth Parliament were. You spoke with passion and eloquence, reflecting the views of your constituents with no thought of party political games or individual reputations- and voted to pursue a campaign which you thought would be the most beneficial. In the words of Michaella Philpot, you showed MP’s ‘how it’s really done’.
Following on from this, the enthusiasm that has been shown by these Youth Parliament members towards Backbench has been tremendous, and through the site we hope to develop a platform where these young, aspirational members of society can reach a vast audience to change politics for the better. In fact, the basis of this platform is already even beginning to form; Backbench’s reputation in three months since its launch has gone from complete nonentity to recognisably one of the fastest growing and well-respected political journalism websites in the UK, with most articles receiving hundreds of views.
We are determined to make even further progress to ensure that our Commentator’s voices are heard, however, we naturally need the help of our Commentators to maintain the quality and integrity of the site so it remains popular. I would first of all stress to all new Commentators who have joined over the past few weeks that the best articles have a structure where there is a clearly defined purpose, with each paragraph providing new evidence to support the final analysis. Of course, variation is a vital component of the site, we don’t want every article to seem formulaic, but intellectual experimentation in writing is always best when it comes from a successful base. Examples of the most engaging forms of political commentary can be found in magazines such as Total Politics and New Statesman. I would also recommend that new Commentators read the articles of Backbench Commentators who have been writing for the past few months, for example, Soila Apparicio, Robert Walmsley and Emily Stacey, whose work perhaps demonstrates an added amount of quality stemming from more experience in the field of political commentary. I must emphasise however, that I am making these suggestions not on the basis that I have seen anything wrong with articles from our new Commentators, quite the contrary in fact, I am merely wary of the consequences of not adequately defining what standard of work we expect. Indeed, if the quality of work that has been produced during the past three months is replicated into the future, then I’m sure that Backbench and its Commentators will develop long-lasting reputations.
In terms of external political talking points during the past month, there were many. It is hard to believe that the US Presidential election occurred during November, with Barack Obama retaining the Presidency for the next four years under the mandate of improving circumstances for the middle classes and tackling America’s economic problems in a fair and balanced manner. Unfortunately for Mr Obama, one of the first questions which he had to face during his second term was regarding how America was to react following the Israel-Palestine bombings, and although it was not a question which needed an immediate answer, I’m sure he will be seriously considering America’s position in the conflict very seriously over the coming weeks and months. As regards to domestic politics, during the past month the UK has had the embarrassment of the PCC elections to deal with- turnout being below 15% in the vast majority of areas. Furthermore, the Conservatives have had further setbacks in the form of several by-election defeats to Labour, including Andy Sawford replacing Louise Mensch as the MP for Corby in Northamptonshire. Indeed, it was once again a month where the specter of a Labour majority at the next General Election continued to grow over the Conservative Party. The drama of the end of the month however, was reserved for the reaction to the Leveson Report, where it seems cross-party negotiations regarding its implementation will be potentially arduous, as David Cameron continues to question the effect which a statutory regulation will have upon the freedom of the press. It seems as though anxieties regarding press ethics and reporter-politician relationships are set to rumble on for some while longer.
During the past month however, focus from Backbench has been upon the Youth Parliament, as many Commentators have been recounting the experiences of one of the most memorable days of their lives. As regards to this, in particular, I must give a special thanks to Robert Walmsley, Soila Apparicio and David Hall who all took part in the debates and still found time to write on-demand articles for Backbench about their day in the House of Commons. Similarly a mention must also go to William Hewstone who watched the debates from the press gallery and consequently wrote an on-demand article for us. For me, the reaction to the debates was summed up by an impassioned article by Matthew Wilson, who called for his fellow young politicians not to lose sight of the ‘unity’ and ‘integrity’ which bound them together on the 23rd November, and to once again work together to ensure meaningful progress when the political baton is eventually passed down to their generation. The sentiments expressed by Matthew and by many other members of the Youth Parliament, have demonstrated that we have a group of individuals who are passionately determined to change our society for the better and who have rejected the stereotype of political apathy within the young. These are people who know the frustrations of being the politically engaged minority in their age group, and therefore are also the people who will ensure that the norm is reversed, creating a society where political apathy exists within 10%, not 85%.
As a result, Article of the Month for November has been awarded to Youth Parliament member Soila Apparicio and her article ‘Youth Parliament and the House of Commons’. The article summed up the main points raised during the debates and put the day into a context, emphasising the need for journalists and politicians to take on board the issues that the MYPs addressed, not just applaud their efforts and then disregard their ideas. The phrase, “For someone who feels that politics runs through their blood, it almost felt natural to take up a seat” also seemed to encapsulate the natural thoughts of an outside observer of the debates- that many of these young people are simply destined to become some of the most well respected and influential elected representatives in our society. On the whole, an exceptional article to sum up an exceptional event on the political calendar.
To round off my Editorial on a less serious note as usual, I’d also like to inform Commentators that we’ve decided to get into the Christmas spirit here at Backbench by awarding the winner of December’s Article of the Month a free Backbench mug. Details will be provided closer to the end of the month and a photo of an example product (my Backbench mug) will be posted on twitter and Facebook sometime over the next few days. Myself, along with Backbench’s whole readership, I’m sure, will be keen to see the various articles vying for this illustrious prize.
By Sam Bright