Review of The National Youth Debate at the People’s History Museum

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Want to ask your local politicians the questions that matter to you? On Thursday 26 March 2015 UpRising will host a National Youth Debate in cities across the UK. If you are aged 16 to 24, come along for the opportunity to join in the debate and decide who will get your vote in the 2015 general election.-Synopsis from the event

UpRising is a UK-wide youth leadership development organisation whose aim is to get talented young people from all backgrounds involved in politics. They do this through providing opportunities and knowledge to young people, such as the National Youth Debate. The debate was excellently ran and provided exactly what UpRising intended it to- opportunity and knowledge. The opportunity to ask questions and speak to local politicians and the knowledge of what each party stands for on several issues which are important to young people.

What made the event different from other debates was that the subjects and issues talked about where of direct importance to young people, between the ages of 16 and 24. Through this article I’m going to summarise the responses the speakers gave.

The speakers included:

Lucy Powell MP, Labour Party
Laura Bannister, Green Party
Steven Woolfe MEP, UKIP
Robert Manning, Conservative Party
Cllr Jane Brophy, Liberal Democrats
Loz Kaye, Pirate Party

Chair – Andrew Russell, Head of Politics at The University of Manchester

The first question asked was “What will your party do to ensure that high quality and affordable healthcare remains available to everyone?”

Jane Brophy from the Liberal Democrats emphasised that her party is passionate about healthcare, specifically mental healthcare. When I spoke to her after the debate, I asked her to elaborate on this, as today more and more young people of school age are suffering from anxiety and depression. Brophy explained the Liberal Democrat policy of matching spending on mental health to that of physical health. In the debate, Brophy also mentioned that the Liberal Democrats, if elected into power, will match healthcare spending to what the Kings’ fund report recommended- £8 billion per year.

Naturally, Robert Manning from the Conservative Party spoke of how the current Chancellor George Osborne has pledged that £2 billion a year will be invested in the NHS if the Conservatives are re-elected into power. He also commented that a report suggested the NHS has performed ‘well, despite challenges’. He closed his statement with explaining the government plan for devolution of NHS funds to Manchester, which he claims will ensure high quality healthcare for all.

Laura Bannister from the Green Party also spoke about mental health, an issue obviously close to her heart as an employee at the mental health charity Mind. Bannister said that the Green Party plans to increase spending on mental health by 33%. Not unexpectedly of the Green Party, Bannister pledged the most spending on the NHS, £12 billion a year, which would be spend on more doctors and nurses. As a final point, Bannister established that the Green Party would reverse the backdoor privatisation of the NHS.

Stephen Woolfe from UKIP was next, and stated bluntly that ineffective management brought in under consecutive Labour and Conservative governments have placed the NHS in crisis. He went on to say ‘you as young people will have to pick up the bill’. In response to the actual question, Woolfe stated that UKIP would spend £3 billion per year on the NHS, as well as ruthlessly cutting ineffective management.

Loz Kaye from the Pirate Party addressed the question next, and immediately jumped in with a franticly energetic but nevertheless coherent answer that the spending wasn’t the only problem facing the NHS. His argument was that the government simply must spend more than they ought to be doing on the NHS due to gigantic pharmaceutical cooperations driving the cost of healthcare up. The Pirate Party would introduce legislation to combat this problem, ensuring that quality and affordable healthcare remains available to everyone.

Last to answer the question was Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Central Manchester. Powell opened her statement by harking back to the creation of the welfare state, emphasising that it was indeed created under the 1946 Labour government. Powell blamed the Conservative government for causing the NHS to be in crisis due to the reorganisation which didn’t need to happen, but assured that a Labour government would introduce a ‘mansion tax’, meaning that 20000 more nurses would be employed, as well as 8000 more doctors. This, so Powell says, would ensure that everybody receives free and good quality healthcare.

The second question was ‘Should every young person have the chance to study the arts up to the age of 16?

Labour kicked of the answers this time, with a very enthusiastic ‘yes’. Lucy Powell lashed out at the unpopular former Health Secretary Michael Gove for taking the education system backwards. In response to the actual question, Powell first established that she didn’t want the arts to become an ‘elite sport’ only to be enjoyed by those privileged enough to afford lessons. To get more students studying the arts, more teachers would be encouraged to teach them, as well as clearer pathways for students, meaning that the arts would not be seen as a second rate option.

Loz Kaye from the Pirate Party was also enthusiastic that every young person up to the age of 16 be given the chance to study the arts. Highly prepared for the question, Kaye used statistics to back up his argument that the arts are a vital part of our economy. To ensure that the arts are available to all students up to 16, the Pirate Party would allow schools more freedom in what they teach, with a focus on learning and not testing. As a final point, Kaye mentions the radical point of scraping a lot of the copyright laws which he claims limits the creative arts. I should probably mention that I’d hazard to guess the audience felt that his answer was the most relatable, despite his policies being the most radical and arguably farfetched.

UKIP’s Michael Woolfe had little to say on the subject of the arts in schools, or education in general. He did however, state that it is UKIP policy to reintroduce grammar schools.

Laura Bannister from the Green Party expressed her disappointment at the prospect of the reintroduction of grammar schools, and received nods of approval from her fellow panel members as well as from the audience. She then went on to say that at the moment schools are encouraged to become ‘specialist’. For example, Derby High School is a ‘science and arts college’. The Green Party would not encourage this, meaning that schools can offer more to their students. Furthermore, the Green Party would offer places outside from schools, such as youth clubs, as places for young people to study the arts.

Conservative representative Robert Manning began his repose supporting the Green Party (of all things) in terms of more youth clubs being needed to ensure that all under 16s have the opportunity to study the arts. He then went on to defend Michael Gove and his party. He said that the Tories inherited an education system that was overwhelmingly in favour of the arts, resulting in a lack of skilled workers in the country. In reforming the education system in ways such as removing January exams and generally making schools harder, Gove was attempting to fix the system so that it gave opportunities to students wanting to go down the academic root.

The Lib Dems, though their representative Jane Brophy, also admitted that there was an over focus on testing and that there was a need to produce a well-rounded education which includes both arts and other subjects.

The third question was “what will your party do to defend the welfare state”- a nice controversial one. Laura Bannister of the Green Party kicked off the discussion with their plan for basic income. Basically, everybody gets £80 a week regardless of anything. The Lib Dems’ Brophy opened her response with dismissing the Green Party’s basic income policy, saying “sadly, it just doesn’t work”. Instead of basic income, the Lib Dems would make the first £700 a person earns tax free. Lucy Powell, Labour, again dwelled on the past, bringing up the fact that it was they who invented the welfare state. Their specific policy is to build more council houses and raise the minimum wage.

In contrast to the other parties, as per usual, the Pirate Party’s Kaye emphasised that big businesses such as Starbucks do not pay their fair share through tax evasion. Through closing these loopholes, more money would be available for the welfare state. Steven Woolfe, UKIP, declared support of the elderly a key feature in their welfare state policy, as well as stopping welfare tourism. They also blamed Labour for getting the welfare state into such as bad way. Robert Manning of the Conservatives avoided stating any specific policy on the welfare state, instead outlining what they would do to avoid people needing it in the first place, such as employment.

After these questions, the floor was opened for members of the audience to ask questions. Several intriguing questions were asked, but the one that stood out was directed at UKIP. The question was in relation to their manifesto policy to instil ‘British values’ in school, but what exactly are British values? Now, Steven Woolfe, MEP for UKIP, had a difficult crowd. It’s important to remember that all members of the audience were young people between the ages of 16 and 24. It was also a diverse audience, with approximately 50:50 men and women, and many ethnic backgrounds represented. UKIPs main fanbase are middle aged white men. Nevertheless, Mr Woolfe did catastrophically. He mumbled something incoherent for 30 seconds then said something along the lines of British values being not Islamic values. I confess I didn’t catch all of what he said, but the audience was in uproar. People were halfway between amused that Woolfe was living up to the UKIP stereotype of Islamophobia, and genuinely offended.

The question was quickly opened to the rest of the panel, with every other representative commenting on how appalled they were at Woolfe’s comment and reinstating that the parties they represented embraced Britain’s diversity, and that British values were humanist values of respect, democracy and acceptance. Later on, Woolfe apologised for his comment and clarified that he was not, after all, a racist. However, it was too late, the damage was done and all respect was lost for the unfortunate man.

As I said, There were several other excellent questions asked, with each representative present giving an overall flavour of what each political party has to offer. Undoubtedly every representative had strengths, but also weaknesses. Sure, UKIP’s Michael Woolfe made the biggest blunder, but the Pirate and Green Parties both made fantastical claims which sound good, but also unrealistic. Having said that, Loz Kaye (Pirate) and Laura Bannister (Green) came across as the most down to earth and enthusiastic candidates by far. Conservative, Labour and the Lib Dems had the most familiar policies, which made them sound like replicas of each other. Yet, these very policies are tried and tested, and appeal to most voters.
In conclusion, I can’t tell you who ‘won’ the debate, I can only say that at the end of the debate every person in the room went away enlightened about what each party stands for, making the National Youth debate a huge success.

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