Entering the Mile End Institute’s “In Conversation with John Bercow” I was sceptical. Despite, his Conservative allegiance Bercow had always insisted he was a true centrist; I wasn’t so sure. I was also worried that perhaps Bercow would be subdued, I wasn’t convinced that his House of Commons charisma wasn’t merely an act, and when faced with academics and students he would adopt a more serious tone.
I was wrong.
The evening began with discussion of Bercow’s political journey and of course he was questioned about the Monday Club (far-right Tory pressure group). Bercow admitted his “abiding shame” at being a member as well as commenting that he was “quite ideological”. I found his self-analysis insightful and refreshing. Unlike other politicians (cough, Clinton, cough) he actually was eager to admit to his mistakes. In fact he admitted to quite a few of them.
Bercow’s mistakes (according to Bercow)
1. Being a member of the Monday Club
2. Opposing equal gay rights for so long
3. The handling of the last 48 hours of the 2010-2015 government
4. His “overly abrasive” nature when he began as Speaker
5. Being a supporter of Enoch Powell
6. Not specialising in Parliament
However, one area Bercow was adamant he had not made a mistake was with the Donald Trump saga. In the talk he adamantly defended his stance to not invite Trump to speak in the House of Commons if he were to have a State visit. “This issue is not about free speech […] it is an earned honour.” Bercow insisted he was talking for “the majority” of M.P’s and still to this day does not regret his decision. This was met with a large round of applause from the audience.
And that leads me on to what made this talk so exciting for me. Despite not being a fan of Bercow, I admired his self-reflection, his conviction and also his sassiness. From asserting that he doesn’t “give a flying flamingo” about Andrew Neil to ripping William Hague to absolute shreds, his opinionated and cutting witticisms about his colleagues really got the audience on board to the point where a small standing ovation was offered by a few.
Summing up John Bercow is easiest when using his own words “I am not a team player” yet, perhaps this is why he is such a successful speaker and prominent politician. His opinions are insightful and critical of not only his colleagues but also of himself.
Our generation has never been as engaged with voting in the way older generations have. Which is sad because it means politicians target policies at older people and ignore us because they think we are too lazy/uninterested/busy having sex and taking drugs to go out and vote. While it shouldn’t be our responsibility to fix the fact that we are often alienated by politicians, it has now become infinitely important for us to fix this ourselves.
Hope causes change: What I love about us is that we are optimistic and hopeful and more tolerant than other generations. We aren’t cynical yet. We still (just about) believe that we can be the next Steve Jobs or the next Scarlett Johansson or the next PM and I don’t think we understand how powerful this is. Optimism and a hope for a better future is what causes this to happen. We have this. We are an optimistic generation. Cynicism or pessimism breed thoughts such as “ah well, there’s nothing we can do to fix it” or “it won’t make a difference” but optimism encourages the complete opposite. We believe we can change the world so we do.
“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do” maybe Steve Jobs?
The more we positively impact politics, the more politics will positively impact us: It shouldn’t work this way but it does. It’s become so common for politicians to be focused more on their careers than on their constituents and very often they will target policies to those who are more likely to vote.
CASE STUDY: The General Election 2015
As you can see almost 80% of people aged 65 and over voted in the last general election compared to only 43% of 18-24 year olds. Compare that to this table which broadly outlines the policies that would primarily impact those age demographics.
It’s not surprising that the majority of parties have more policies (and positive policies) directed towards the pensioners because they are more likely to vote. Therefore, political parties gear policies to persuade them to vote for their party as it seems crucial to gain the support of the older generation in order to win.
Therefore, if our generation could be depended on to go out and vote in an election, we would be more likely to have positive policies aimed at us in order to entice us. I totally understand many of us may argue this shouldn’t be how politics should work and I agree but it’s one way we can begin to get our voices heard.
Which leads me on to…
We have a powerful, united voice: I saw this so clearly during Brexit. Our generation completely united behind the remain campaign regardless of many other differences. For the first time in my life I saw us engaged and debating. My social media was filled with the voices of my friends, many of whom I would never have expected to join the debate. It was amazing to see and in the bleak days after the referendum result it was the one positive I found myself being drawn back to. During campaigns that tried to divide us, our generation stood together and we proved what we can do.
We must now utilise that strength, engagement and unity and build on what have begun to achieve. We shouldn’t be forgotten because of our age and we certainly shouldn’t be underestimated. We are as important as any other voter. We are them.