6.1 Politics students visit Westminster

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By Jonathan Selby, Head of Government and Politics

On 4 March, Bedales 6.1 students were invited to take part in a livestream Question Time event at Westminster. We combined our visit with a tour of the House of Commons, which we were originally due to undertake in the summer, the House of Lords and the Lobby Hall, where ordinary citizens can go and lobby MPs.

We were fortunate to have the tour at a time when Parliament was in sitting, as usually school tours take place when Parliament is in recess. We saw David Davis, Hilary Benn, Diane Abbott, Dame Patricia Hodge and John Bercow, Speaker of the Commons, controlling the debate. The topic was initially on housing and communities, leading to urgent questions on weapon control.

The House of Lords was rather more a slow-moving affair, with bowing to the empty throne one of the quaint conventions we witnessed. Students may have also been surprised to see on the order paper that the morning and afternoon sessions began with prayers.

After our tour, we went to a lecture room where we and one other school were the student audience assembled to address a panel of MPs on two topics: ‘Are referendums good for democracy?’ and ‘Does the House of Commons exercise enough control over the executive arm of the government?’

The MPs on the panel were Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North who was on the BBC Question Time panel last week; Carol Monaghan, Scottish National Party member for Glasgow North West; Nigel Huddleston, Conservative member for Mid-Worcestershire; and Chris Matheson, Labour MP for Chester.

After a brief explanation of their positions on Brexit (they were all remainers), Bedales student Jonathan Greenfield asked the first question on referendums, which centred on the possibilities of tying referendums to specific constitutional points and making them more legally binding. The panel generally agreed this would be a good idea, with Carol Monaghan explaining that the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014 had been better prepared so issues were well understood by the time of the vote, and there was therefore less argument about the referendum afterwards.

The second question came from another Bedales student, Mack Cowling, who asked a question about the ‘shelf-life’ of referendums – a very good question in which he even cited the correct date of the previous referendum.

On Parliament’s control of the Executive, most argued that there is control, particularly with a minority government as at present, as well as Select Committees and Prime Minister’s Questions, where the incumbent does not know the questions beforehand. Barry Gardiner disagreed, however, seeing the control as limited even in current times. He pointed to the government’s use of ancient means (‘Henry VIII clauses’) to push things through.

The trip was an unparalleled opportunity for the students not only to see Parliament in action but also to be able to debate face-to-face with current politicians. Watch the live debate here.

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Politics students attend Westminster conference

By Jonathan Selby, Head of Government and Politics

A group of 6.1 Politics students went to an A Level Politics Conference held in the vast Methodist Hall at Westminster on Monday, 3 December.

As the hall is very near Parliament, well known politicians come across and speak to the audience of approximately 2,000 students. The format is that the politician addresses the hall on a particular issue for ten minutes and then takes questions, some of them difficult (there is no vetting procedure!) for 20 minutes.

The conference started with an address by Sir John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, who explained how he saw his role and he spoke very clearly. He was asked a question about bullying culture in the House; he himself has had his name raised on this issue, which he hotly denied.

Sir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, gave an erudite exposition of his line on Europe and the audience was broadly sympathetic. He responded honestly to an inevitable question about broken promises on tuition fees.

Nigel Farage drew a lively response, claiming along the way that he alone was responsible for the disappearance of the far-right British National Party (BNP). He challenged the audience to name the current leader of UKIP – and one student knew the correct answer, Gerrard Batten.

Chuka Umunna spoke smoothly – some felt a little too smoothly – for Labour and was followed by perhaps the least effective speaker, Emily Thornberry. In response to a question about Jeremy Corbyn’s links to terrorists, she lost her temper and unfortunately turned on the student posing the question. It was, after all, a perfect opportunity for her to refute the charge.

Nicky Morgan (former Minister for Education) spoke in a balanced way about Brexit.

Perhaps the most persuasive speaker was Jess Phillips, the feisty Labour MP who campaigns tirelessly and fearlessly for women’s rights. She dealt with some mildly chauvinist questions effectively and was persuasive, honest and fun. Her book, Everywoman, would make a good addition to anyone’s Christmas list.

The afternoon was rounded off by the inimitable Jacob Rees-Mogg, who answered questions directly and honestly, including one on his views on abortion which were not in sympathy with the student body. I need not remind you of his views on Brexit!

This was a most worthwhile and enjoyable day, but unfortunately there were not enough tickets for all the 6.1 students, which was a shame as I could have filled the allocation three times over.

Politicians share their ‘unspun’ opinions

It’s a rare opportunity to be able to hear nine prominent politicians speak in one day, but this is what ten 6.1 students enjoyed in Westminster last Monday at the annual A Level Politics Conference. Nigel Farage was certainly the most anticipated speaker of the day by all delegates, and we enjoyed listening to his use of rhetoric to speak persuasively and passionately, regardless of whether we agreed with his views! Other politicians speaking on the theme of the potential earthquake of next summer’s general election included William Hague, John Bercow, Tristram Hunt, Rachel Reeves and Nadine Dorries. It was refreshing to hear ‘unspun’ opinions on the impact of UKIP, the causes of voter apathy and the increasing importance of social media in campaigning.

By Ruth Tarrant, Head of Economics and Head of Government & Politics


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Politics visit to the Palace of Westminster

The Politics department organised a trip to London on Monday this week, the main feature being a tour of The Houses of Parliament, our knowledgeable guide made this a particularly rewarding visit. We started in Westminster Hall which has survived since the 11th Century, where both The Queen Mother and Churchill lay in state, and Charles the First was tried. The tour continued through Lobby Halls to the green-seated House of Commons and the red-seated House of Lords, illustrated by some very entertaining stories and references to current politicians. We also visited the old St Stephen’s Chapel; the place of Parliament in the 17th century where Charles had overstepped his prerogative by bursting in and demanding the arrest of five Members in 1642. It is also where the Suffragettes chained themselves to statues after the current Palace of Westminster had been rebuilt in the Nineteenth Century (following a fire). After lunch we visited the Supreme Court opposite Parliament which had only come into being in 2009, superseding the House of Lords as the highest court of appeal. Although there was not a lot to see, our guide kept the students’ attention with some fascinating debate on ethical and legal issues in which everyone joined in. The exhibition, though small, also entertained us with stories including the legal landmarks which followed the discovery of a decomposing snail in a bottle of ginger beer! All the students really enjoyed the day, some commenting that it was the best school trip they had been on. They were a delight to be with.

By Jonathan Selby, Teacher of Government & Politics, and History


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Fabulous line-up of speakers on Politics

The Politics Conference in London recently attended by AS Politics students turned out to be a terrific day. Any one of the speakers would have been great to hear on their own but because the Central Methodist Church Conference Hall was a stone’s throw from The House of Commons, we were treated to a fabulous array of speakers, each of whom spoke for fifteen minutes and answered questions for fifteen minutes. Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrats) outlined the distinctive position of his party. Neil Hamilton, ex Conservative now Vice President of UKIP, spoke optimistically on UKIP‘s future based on their significant recent By Election results. John Bercow, Speaker of The House of Commons, gave a lucid account of his role, and Alan Duncan spoke about International Development. David Blunkett (with his dog), the Home Secretary under Tony Blair, was amusing and Tony Benn added gravitas with his heartfelt address on the topic of War. He was himself a pilot in The Second World War and spoke with considerable authority and phrased his delivery beautifully. Nadine Dorries (Conservative MP and I’m a Celebrity star) spoke about women in Parliament, and Douglas Carswell, a reform-minded Tory, outlined proposals for significant reform. We were also treated to an address from Tristram Hunt, rising star of the Labour Party and its educational spokesman. The only disappointment was the absence of George Galloway who last year set the hall alight with his fiery dialogue. This was the very best conference conceivable to grab the interest of politics students and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

By Jonathan Selby, Teacher of Government and Politics

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Students discuss Politics and Parliament with MP Damian Hinds

Last Friday, the local Conservative MP for East Hampshire, Damian Hinds visited Bedales to discuss with students the mechanics of Parliament. After joining a group of Bedalians for lunch, Damian spoke to a collection of Politics students and those who were curious to find out what the MP had to say. The talk provided an insight into the true procedures of Parliament allowing for a Q & A in which many Bedalian’s main focus was towards current affairs. This led to in-depth discussions with the MP which shed particular light on events including the present relationship between the Coalition and the Opposition, which led to Damian revealing the series of events contributing to David Cameron’s failed attempt for possible military action in Syria. This helped us to question the Government’s relationship with Parliament from a unique insider’s perspective. Overall it was a talk in which all the students left with a more rounded view of our government today.

By Henry Rice, 6.1

MP Damian Hinds and Bedales students

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.