Cabinet Minister gives pupils an insight into politics

Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers gave QE boys an insider’s perspective on the joys, challenges and duties of life as a politician.

Mrs Villiers, who is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, spoke of the dual nature of her job, split between her constituency – which includes the School – and her Parliamentary work.

She was invited to QE by Year 12 boy Adrian Burbie, whose political blog, Whippersnapper (run with fellow pupil Ché Applewhaite), has been attracting the attention of many at Westminster. Adrian has also resurrected the School’s Politics Society and hopes one day to become a politician himself. Mrs Villiers is pictured here with, from left to right, the Headmaster, Callum Cuddeford (School Vice-Captain), Norbert Sobolak (School Captain), Adrian and Head of Politics Liam Hargadon.

All at the School were invited to the Main Hall to hear her talk, which was put on by the Politics Society.

She explained to Adrian and other politically ambitious pupils how one becomes an MP and what an MP’s duties are. They include being engaged in party politics, listening to the concerns of constituents “when the bureaucracy has failed them” and trying to help them resolve such problems. Mrs Villiers explained that she is very involved in the local Cypriot community and has, for example, been championing the cause of a family with a complaint against the police following the death of a daughter.

""She also takes an interest in more general local concerns and referred to her almost-weekly hounding of BT over the poor broadband speed in Barnet: “The job of an MP is to nag.”

In the course of her visit, she answered a number of ‘hot potato’ questions, including whether 16 & 17-year-olds should be given the vote in the forthcoming EU referendum and how she would campaign ahead of that referendum if PM David Cameron is unable to secure a better deal.

On the first of these, she stressed the importance of politics and urged young adults to vote, but stated that she opposes lowering the voting age, since she has seen little desire for it among young people.

On the latter, she said she was confident that Mr Cameron would secure a good deal – and that she did not like answering hypothetical points.

Mrs Villiers divides her time between her constituency home in Arkley and Hillsborough Castle, an official Government residence in Northern Ireland. An MP since 2005, she has been a Privy Councillor since 2010 and Northern Ireland Secretary since 2012. Before that, she was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 until she stood down after the 2005 General Election. Becoming an MEP had been almost “an accident”, she said, reflecting that she preferred being an MP.

Asked whether she felt Westminster’s first-past-the-post electoral system was fair, particularly with regard to the selection of MPs, she answered in the affirmative.

She is pleased with the new agreement in Northern Irish politics, but spoke of her frustration that the political situation too often takes a backward step because of a shooting or other crime which sparks renewed sectarian tensions.

Mrs Villiers also professed her enthusiasm for the witty but brutal political TV comedy, The Thick of It, describing it as “genius” and praising its accuracy. There were times when the programme’s plot lines exactly matched her own experiences of running a Government Department: she recalled, in particular, the panic-inducing experience of sitting in a car on the way to a policy announcement, just as that policy was being scrapped in a last-minute volte-face. Her department does, however, have “a little less swearing” than its fictional counterpart, she stated.