Harry Forbes is a student.
We live, or so we are told, in a time of austerity. Taxes are not as low as many of us would like, and local government tells us that their funding is at a critical level. Why then does the Government fund a crooked, undemocratic and biased vanity project for the liberal left to the tune of over £1 million over the last ten years, in addition to considerable local government funding? Why does an organisation of children elected in a system vulnerable to fraud have influence over our proper elected representatives in councils and in Westminster?
The project which we are talking about is the UK Youth Parliament. A fundamentally good idea on paper, the Youth Parliament was set up in 2001 by Conservative MP Andrew Rowe, among others, with the aim of engaging young people in politics. However, over the years, this organisation has strayed far from that aim and taken money from the taxpayer – inappropriate, surely, for an organisation with no actual remit or apparent purpose other than the entertainment of student politicians.
As a young person with an interest in politics myself, I decided to investigate the Youth Parliament and see what exactly it did, and how to get involved. My findings were worrying.
I started with some internet research, which provided me with stories of MYPs spending £15,000 on a party for themselves and wasting taxpayers’ money on chauffeur driven cars to meetings. The Youth Parliament’s own website had little information about how to get involved, who could stand or when elections were held. After trawling the Internet for several hours I finally managed to find some information on how to stand – not on the UKYP website, but on the website of my local Unitary Authority, Wiltshire Council. It turned out that the deadline was three days after I had stumbled across this sheet; there had been no advertisement in my sixth form, no word in the local media, it seems that the only way to enter the Youth Parliament is by word-of-mouth or hours of Internet searches.
By this point, it had become apparent that something was wrong with the Youth Parliament. No organisation can claim to represent every young person in the country when the vast majority of young people have not heard of it, and they do not advertise the opportunity to stand for election. This surely means that the views on offer will be far narrower than the actual range amongst the youth, and indeed this fear is often proved correct, with only those already involved in council-run projects and council-funded causes hearing about the opportunity to stand. At the last elections to the UKYP in my constituency, we had ten candidates, all of whom had manifestoes promising broadly uniform objectives revolving around more buses (often free), less government cuts to services for young people, more sex education in schools, etc. It became clear that the elections were simply a competition between right-on, deficit-denying lefties as to how they could spend the most taxpayers’ money possible on a progressive agenda. All problems were solved by spending more money. There was no opposition to choose from.
At these last elections, I decided to vote using the SMS vote system – twice, using two mobile phones. I’m not the only one. A friend of mine voted no less than six times in the paper ballot system operated in his area, as did many of his acquaintances. When talking to one of my teachers I discovered that he too had cast a vote, despite the fact that only those people aged 11-18 are actually allowed to vote. It’s possible to vote from out of the constituency too, meaning that electoral fraud can take place in three different ways during a UKYP election.
So, once they have acquired a “mandate” on an average of 20 per cent of the vote, on a 20 per cent turnout, what do MYPs do? Well, they go to meetings. A lot of meetings, with private taxis courtesy of, you guessed it, the taxpayer. They put together a national manifesto and then go to the House of Commons once a year to vote on their proposals. But it isn’t actually a proper vote because they can’t vote against a proposal, only choose one of two. If an MYP disagreed with both, then that’s tough because they have to vote for one of them. While doing this, they sit on the green benches – against all Parliamentary tradition, but that doesn’t matter because John Bercow gets to preside over the session and use it to denounce political parties in order to enjoy the adulation of the assembled youth (strange, surely, for the Speaker, unbiased as he is?)
So, after all this research, I decided there was only one thing to do: stand to become an MYP. It turned out that it wasn’t that simple, however, because my manifesto criticised the UKYP and promised to campaign against the culture of bland political consensus. The supposedly unbiased civil servants at Wiltshire Council couldn’t have that, so sent me back an edited version, in which the mentions of electoral fraud and pointlessness of the UKYP had been removed and altered. They told me that they would not print this on the manifesto sheet, as they would not allow “attempts to undermine the current process”.
I give you the UK Youth Parliament – taxpayer-subsidised democracy at its best, North Korean style.