Thursday, 23 April 2015

The young putting the old to shame - The Jersey Youth Parliament

Yesterday myself and Deputy Tadier attended the inaugural meeting of the Jersey Youth Parliament.

Jersey already has a Youth Assembly, which takes place once a year in the States Chamber and is organised by the Jersey branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which includes amongst it's alumni such fine politicians as myself and Deputy Jeremy Macon.

However thanks to the hard work of a few teenagers with a passion for politics and bucket loads of initiative (led by Amy Vatcher), a more permanent organisation has been formed to host regular debates amongst young people, encourage students to get politically active and provide a forum for the views of young people to be filtered through directly to the States.

Aside from this obviously being great for all the young people who get a chance to be involved, I am really optimistic that this will be good for the whole Island, for two main reasons -

Firstly, the actual model of parliament that these young people have opted to create is a pristine democratic model that puts the actual States format to shame.

They have accepted the principle that everyone deserves to have a vote worth exactly the same as anybody else, and so their voting system will be a proportional representation system.

The States of Jersey has so far sanctioned two referendums to hoodwink the public into voting to preserve our gerrymandered system where those in the conservative rural Parishes can arbitrarily outvote the more progressive urban Parishes no matter the overall democratic will of the Island is.

The purpose of elections are to produce a parliament which represents the democratic will of the public. The States of Jersey fails horrendously at this, where the Jersey Youth Parliament has committed to it on it's very first day.

But as well as accepting the principle of equal suffrage, they have also opted for party politics!

So far four parties have been formed -

The Rose Party - a liberal party named after the reformist party in Jersey during the 1800s, let by Constable Pierre Le Sueur.
The Socialist League - a coalition of democratic socialists from across the broad left.
The Green Party - an environmentalist party.
The Progressive Party - a conservative party, named after the right-wing party formed in 1945 by Cyril Le Marquand.

When I put it to the members of the Youth Parliament that it was a sensible decision to go for a party system, they responded by saying that it made so much more sense to group together on joint manifestos rather than every candidate (potentially more than 50) putting together their own manifesto that would make it a challenge for young voters to go through and decide which to vote for.

And therein lies the problem with the States system and, in my view, why we have landed ourselves in the mother of all disasters with an upcoming £125m financial black hole!

Our political system is designed to put off as many people so it remains as easy as possible for those in power to remain in place, no matter how badly out of touch with the public they become or how badly they mismanage our public finances.

Yet, on day one of it's existence, the Youth Parliament has adopted a model that has already shown itself to be far more captivating for those who take part and makes the job of the youth parliamentarians much easier.

I think that this this Youth Parliament is going to make our Council of Ministers look absolutely ridiculous.

When a group of teenagers are able to put the actual government to shame by so easily accepting basic principles of democracy so uncontroversially, then those who continue to bury their head in the sand will look more and more out of touch.

But the second thing that really impressed me about yesterday was the actual quality of the debate.

Each party (including the Progressive Party who I am most ideologically unaligned with) put forward their cases eloquently and in good spirit. With more and more practice the leading lights of each party will become public speakers with the skills to surpass many of our actual politicians (they'll certainly get more practice in their role than some of our States Members choose to get by their inactivity in their role...).

Ben Jehan of the Rose Party was able to explain his liberal ideology with such clarity and with an ability to portray himself as utterly genuine in every word he said, even when he was put under pressure from members of the audience who didn't agree with him.

Daniel Tremoceiro of the Progressive Party gave an explanation of his conservative values that showed his genuine commitment to real economic success and fiscal competence, without ever allowing himself to be diverted towards socially conservative values which are deeply unpopular amongst most young people.

Ella Blampied from the Green Party won the audience over so quickly with her charm by describing herself as an "environment nerd" and making it abundantly clear that she was not a political person, but rather someone who was motivated by a genuine passion to save the world from climate change.

Freddie Morley-Kirk from the Socialist League made an excellent case for democratic socialism, making clear his disdain for those historically who have dragged the good name of socialism through the mud, and showed his party to be a coalition of those who want to fight for a more equal society but without losing sight of the importance of pragmatism.

From the audience came some wonderful contributions from people who needed little prompting to put all of the parties (in equal measure) on the spot to justify what they had said and to challenge them when they believed what they had said didn't add up.

When I heard the group of girls from Hautlieu giving even the Socialists a hard time over their commitment to true equality, I knew that I was in a room full of people with genuine progressive views, something which is sorely lacking in the actual States Assembly which is conservative and reactionary in all the wrong ways. It is too enamoured by tradition that it shows contempt for positive change.

The more refined these people become with more political experience, the better our chances are of having a next generation that will save this Island from the incompetence of previous generations.

Some in politics believe that more political education is the panacea to all of our previous problems with trying to get young people engaged with politics. I have always believed this is utter nonsense and will actually put young people off politics.

Politics is the battle of values and fighting for a better world. A bunch of old fogies trying to be as balanced and uncontroversial in front of a whiteboard will not inspire young people.

Some young people believe the planet is being destroyed by multi-national companies who are usurping our natural resources to make a quick buck with no regard for future generations. Some young people believe inequality is keeping billions of people in poverty across the world. Some young people believe governments have attacked our hard-won civil liberties in the name of "security". Some young people believe that their economic prospects are harmed by governments who take an anti-enterprise stance and hold back aspiration.

The way you will inspire young people to get politically active is by encouraging them to take part in passionate debates on these subjects which leave them wanting to walk straight out of the room and do something to help their community.

The Youth Parliament has already shown what huge potential it has and I'm thoroughly glad it's happening!

Well done to everyone involved.

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