Politics trip to Westminster
Outside the great Westminster hall, which stands adjacent to the Houses of Parliament, crowds of students gathered in what seemed like a political conference in its own right. As the MPW students made their way in, snippets of opinions, statements, retorts could be heard from the many hundreds of other students with two common goals: to have their opinions challenged; and to challenge those of others.
The first speaker was, appropriately, the Commons speaker himself, John Bercow, who met the demands of his audience in addressing the issue of President Trump’s proposed state visit and his retweeting of Britain First articles, denouncing them as ‘fascist’.
Following Bercow were several well-known politicians, young and old, left and right, each of whom weathered a disparate barrage of questioning from the braver students assembled at microphones around the hall. While some of these questions were tactful and informed, others aimed to get a laugh and provided a necessary escape from the gravitas and dourness of modern politics, drawing those of differing opinions together in the best way possible - with humour. An example of this was the enquiry of a young man who informed Labour MP Clive Lewis of one of his subordinate’s having posted memes on Twitter and asking how he planned to ‘deal with this insolence and stupidity’, much to the bewilderment of Mr Lewis.
Alan Duncan, a Conservative MP, was the first to address an issue which had been placed somewhat on the back burner since the Brexit referendum, that of reform of the House of Lords. In discussing the contested criteria for appointment to the Lords, Duncan took a pro-reform view, calling for elections as opposed to the current methods of ‘cash for honours’, hereditary peerages and the appointment of the bishops of the Church of England. Duncan denounced the current state of the Lords as a ‘chumocracy’, claiming that the house was simply ‘too big’.
The event saw the return of another household name, Nick Clegg, who spoke as something of a soothsayer, declining to shy away from talk of Brexit. Frank and direct, Clegg outlined the tectonic shifts in the political landscape of the last few years, claiming that ‘old and young think completely differently’, a fitting statement at the event, wherein the wisdom of the old (such as the veteran Conservative MP, Ken Clarke) was passed on for reinterpretation to us, the young. The former deputy PM prophesied that, due to the current conflicts of ideology, we might see fragmentation of existing political parties during the next decade or so into new ones with more focused principles. Not one to mince words, Clegg blasted the Leave campaign’s ‘irresponsibility and deception’ of their supporters, claiming that Brexit had been sold on entirely false premises, and that none of the promised aspects of the UK’s departure would materialise. Despite the great albatross around his neck marked ‘tuition fees’, Clegg had, by the end of his speech, impressed many with his down-to-earth, honest demeanour and fearless confrontation of the fact and fiction regarding Brexit.
The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the last speaker, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a right-wing politician who is often accused of having antiquated social politics. Asked about his views on abortion, Rees-Mogg explained that, while he disagrees on a personal level with the procedure, he wouldn’t personally seek to affect legislation to make abortion less accessible. Ending on a note of unity, recognising the much-needed frank and open debate which was taking place in the hall that day, Rees-Mogg cited the event as an example of the kind of frank conversation which had been lacking lately among the politically-minded British youth, and drew the crowd together in applause for the liberal notions of tolerance and free speech, of which the whole day had been a frankly impressive example.