Rough and tumble: QE boys hear from leading parliamentarians at A-Level Politics Conference
January 13, 2016
January 13, 2016
Twenty-four Year 12 Politics students from QE joined 2,000 Sixth-Formers from around the country at a conference featuring some of the country’s best-known politicians.
The event at the Methodist Central Hall began with some initial remarks from the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. Mr Bercow then gave answers to questions from the floor, including an unabashedly robust response to a question posed by QE boy Neal Vithlani (pictured left with Natalie Bennett).
“I was lucky enough to ask him about the attempted coup by the Conservative government on the last day of the 2010-2015 Parliament,” said Neal. “Bercow, being the passionate man we all know, jumped at the opportunity to say how ‘William Hague and co.’ acted disrespectfully and in an underhand way. After criticising the behaviour of members of the Cabinet, Bercow drew huge cheers and applause from the audience, signalling that the rest of the conference would be a raucous event.”
The 24th annual A-Level Politics Conference gave Sixth-Formers the chance to hear from, and question, MPs including Government ministers, shadow ministers and party leaders.
QE History and Politics teacher Helen MacGregor, who accompanied the boys, said: “This conference represents a unique opportunity for young people to speak with national leaders and it is also invaluable in linking classroom learning about Politics with the real world.”
Natalie Bennett, who is Green Party leader although she failed to get elected in May and is therefore not an MP, impressed Neal and his classmates as “one of the better speakers of the day”. Neal felt her performance was much better than in the General Election TV debates. “Bennett drew large applause when talking about the importance of getting young people into work and out of benefits.”
The conference heard from Leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling, from Nadine Dorries – who inspired boys and girls alike with her account of the struggles of being a female MP in the ‘all-boys club’ of Westminster – and from one of the more senior MPs, Alan Duncan. His defence of the 0.7% of GDP allocated to the UK’s foreign aid budget drew loud support from the floor as he responded to a loaded question about poverty at home, Neal reported.
The first Labour MP to take to the stage was Tristram Hunt, who spoke on Labour’s electability in 2020 and was quizzed on his loyalty to Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn.
The audience was somewhat subdued, Neal reported, when the leader of the SNP at Westminster, Angus Robertson, spoke on his party’s policies, but then came to life – with a number of boos being heard – at his suggestion that England and Scotland should separate and rule themselves.
UKIP’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell, focused on the rise of his party and the need, as he saw it, for Britain to leave the European Union. “Carswell performed well and convinced many people sceptical of UKIP that they are not everything they are made out to be,” said Neal.
Labour MP Dan Jarvis, tipped by some as a future Labour leader, also came across well, with many in the audience warming to the former British Army Major precisely because he is not a ‘career politician’.
Recently appointed Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron was the final speaker and was “an immediate hit with the crowd”. After talking about the Lib Dems’ own “failings” in 2010, he opined that Labour’s current “infighting” represented an historic opportunity for voters. “He left the crowd on a positive note, saying how the Liberal Democrats were the party of tomorrow and walked off the stage to a huge round of applause,” Neal concluded.