This Friday, members of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament will sit in the House of Commons for their annual debate, for the 5th consecutive year. This is an incredibly significant event not just for young people but for the history of UK democracy; this event is the only time that people other than MPs can debate in the chamber.
Every year, the UK Youth Parliament holds an annual sitting event at which members from across the UK come together to discuss and debate issues that affect young people in their constituencies. At the annual sitting we decide the 15 topics that will be on the ‘Make Your Mark’ surveys. These surveys then go out to young people across the UK; this is the largest youth consultation in the UK. This year the UK Youth Parliament received close to 500,000 ballot papers. When we receive these ballots we pick the top five issues and debate them at House of Commons to decide on the campaign(s) for the following year.
The top five topics this year are:
1. Votes for 16 and 17 year olds in all public elections
2. Better work experience and careers advice
3. Combating youth unemployment
4. A curriculum to prepare us for life
5. A zero tolerance towards bullying in schools
This year will be an incredible year for me, as I have had the privilege of being elected as a debate lead and will be summating for ‘A curriculum for to prepare us for life’. In the run up to this event, all debate leads went through a thorough training weekend, learning how to deliver the ideal speech. In preparation for the weekend we had to prepare a one minute speech on someone we believed to be a great speaker, I picked Malcom X. I chose him as my speaker, as controversial as he may seem, because he was empowering. Watching his speeches back gave me Goosebumps; his burning passion to see the world changed for the better made him an infectious speaker. This man rose from the rubble in an American society that today has a black male population of 13.4% but a black male prison population of 40%. Growing up in a society that hates you and your people, and yet motivating people to liberate themselves, to stand up for equality, is a remarkable feat. Identifying what makes a great speaker made me reflect on myself and my speech. Unfortunately, I will not be able to preach a powerful and liberating message in my speech (perhaps one day in the future) but I have thoroughly learnt what gives a good delivery and hopefully I will achieve this on Friday.
Being given the summation speech on a topic you are incredibly passionate about is such a difficult thing to do and the process of writing my speech has been a long, difficult and tedious one. One thing I have learnt is that if you don’t know your counter arguments, you have no argument yourself. So, by taking on the summation speech, I have improved my arguments for the motion due to my thorough understanding of the opposing viewpoints. And that can only be a good thing.
This year I am giving the summation on ‘A curriculum to prepare us for life’. This campaign is about ensuring that all schools and academies sign up to a curriculum that teaches:
· Community cohesion education
· Sustainable living education
· Finance skills education
· Cultural awareness education
· Sex and relationship education
· Political education
· Citizenship education
This campaign focuses on topics that young people are assumed to know. For example, earlier this year I participated in a Channel 5 interview with LBC presenter James Max, in which we discussed the reasons behind growing youth unemployment levels. He stated that many young people were not going about the process in the right way, by applying to the wrong departments and not conducting themselves formally in interviews. However, I argued that when you are nurtured and conditioned in school for the whole of your childhood without any form of preparation, it can sometimes be daunting and difficult trying to adapt to the adult world. The world that you know nothing about and yet no-one has thought to teach you about.
Many more debates like this are still going on and it’s not only for members of UKYP to discuss. You too can join in the debate on twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #UKYPHoC and following the UK Youth Parliament on Twitter @UKYP.
The topics we are discussing might not be to do with the privatisation of the NHS, or pensions but it doesn’t make the quality or importance of the debate any less than actual MPs debating in the House of Commons. What’s important is that young people are actively engaged in the world of politics; we’re making our mark and getting our voices heard. Together we are stronger, together we are showing that democracy isn’t just for the elitist few, so get engaged and get involved, you may just agree with some of the things we have to say.
By Chante Joseph