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.


Touring the Palace of Westminster


Politics is something that affects us all but I wonder how many people, old and young, have a true understanding of how Parliament actually works. It turns out that a trip to the Palace of Westminster is a great way to gain an insight; what’s more, as British citizens we are all entitled to a free tour of the Houses (just contact your local MP). On Wednesday, I accompanied 6.1 Politics students and Alan, the Acting Head of Department, to Westminster.

As always the Bedalians impressed me with their mature behaviour, excellent questioning, humour, knowledge and creativity, the combination of which made me smile, laugh and even at times shed a happy tear or two!

We’ve just finished our tour of Parliament and have moved into the new education centre, opened just this autumn. I’m sat here in front of them, observing their participation in a parliamentary workshop, which they are fully engaged with. Sitting in two teams, red and blue, two primary colours that apparently have nothing to do with the parties. To my left are the reds and to my right the blues.

Starting with a guess the country game, to warm up, the teacher calls out some bizarre laws such as it being illegal to kiss someone with a moustache.

Moving on to the more serious stuff students were taken through the whole law making process via role play, with one student taking centre stage as speaker.

Parliament started with a vote on which bill to debate, each party submitting their own choice to the ballot: the blues choose EU exit whilst the reds choose (in response) to burn the nationalists! Needless to say, the EU exit bill got voted in, under closed eyes to add anonymity.

Had I kept my eyes shut, I might have been forgiven for thinking that the youngsters had been replaced by professional actors. The debate was excellent; well informed and serious despite its humour. George was leading the debate, it was a blue initiative, and he opened with an extremely strong and convincing argument about the freedoms and benefits associated with leaving the EU. The reds, however, were quick to come back with a counter argument based around immigration, asylum and equality for all.

Post debate, more questions were posed to the students, all designed to inform or rather (with these students) test their existing knowledge. After which, we left Westminster and headed back to Waterloo where students shared their thoughts, proving that it was a great and educational day.

‘As someone who has a passion for politics it was certainly a great, eye-opening day, which enabled me to gain a really good insight into the political world’ – George

‘It was good to see how the British government works, now when I see British politics on the news I will know what they are talking about’ – Malik, Putney exchange student.

By Scott Charlesworth, Teacher of Chemistry