UK Youth Parliament
A word of praise for Gordon Brown in what are bleak times for him. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to allow the UK Youth Parliament to use the Palace of Westminster when MPs and Peers were not sitting. So at the beginning of this month the Youth Parliament held debates in the House of Lords chamber and last night some of these were shown on the Parliament Channel.
I intended to take only a quick look but ended up watching the entire programme. It was the best thing on TV last night and proved that Britain's Got Talent more convincingly than the programme of that name.
The debates were chaired by the real House of Lords Speaker, Baroness Hayman. She mostly managed to avoid being patronising but did at one point come out with the Joyce Grenfell-like exclamation "that's naughty!" Unfortunately, there was no close-up to reveal what youthful indiscretion was taking place, although one rather hopes that the next time Baroness Thatcher takes her place in the Lords she finds a piece of chewing gum adhering to her arse.
The Speaker reminded the MYPs that applauding speeches was not normal in Parliament and suggested they adopt the convention of growling 'Hear, hear!'.
The first time they did this, they erupted in laughter at the sound it produced. Then, after a short time, they ignored her instruction and reverted to applauding speakers.
Youth of Britain: 1 Old Farts: 0.
Will Britain ever produce its own Barack Obama? Well, if it does, there's a fair chance his name will be Acie Marshall.
This black youth from London stood at the despatch box and made a barnstorming speech on the environment. He received a long standing ovation from the entire House.
(Tony Blair was Prime Minister for ten years before the House of Commons, on his final day, broke with convention and gave him a standing ovation.)
Shortly after Acie's speech, another MYP stood up and said he was intending to speak against the motion but had changed his mind after hearing Acie's speech. Because Acie seemed such a consummate politician, I couldn't help wondering if this was a plant.
The environment debate was closed by the youngest MYP. I didn't record his name but he couldn't have been more than 10 or 11 and made a moving speech that included a swipe at the irrelevance of status and titles - in that particular arena, a bit like giving a reading from Richard Dawkins in Westminster Cathedral. When he concluded, Acie and his acolytes pinned him to the leather benches and fell on top of him as though he'd scored the winning goal in the FA Cup Final.
As always in such a forum, it was disturbing to listen to those who evoked memories of the teenage William Hague and who argued in favour of university fees. And it would be easy to sneer at those who looked stereotypically nerdish. But for the most part they looked and sounded like the kids who hang around outside your corner shop. Except that they were sitting in the Mother of Parliaments and speaking fluently and intelligently about education, transport and the environment.
Forty or fifty years ago this programme would have been shown on a main channel, not perhaps in peak-time but maybe on a Sunday afternoon. Buried on one of the least-watched minority channels, few will have seen it. And that's a pity because it wasn't just 'worthy' but hugely entertaining and a welcome antidote to the current demonisation of young people.
And remember this name: William Acie Marshall.
Charm, charisma, eloquence and, it has to be said, just a little bit scary.
Just promise me, Acie, that if you become our first black Prime Minister, you won't be a Conservative Prime Minister.