PUPILS ELECT NEW YOUTH MP
Ballot … Count … Result – jus’ like tha’
THIS week saw the debate, inquisition, voting and election of Wokingham’s Youth MP, which took place in the main council chamber at Shute End. In comparison to the usual meetings in the chamber it was good humoured, fast-paced, passionate politics with none of the squabbling or bickering that you might expect.
With seven of the borough’s 10 mainstream secondary schools, each fielding one candidate from years 9 to 12 (i.e. age 17 or under), the atmosphere was intense and the nerves were tuned to concert pitch.
Sitting in seats usually occupied by borough councillors, the electorate was formed of pupils who faced the candidates. Teachers were banished to the public gallery, upstairs.
Supported by WBC’s mayor, with two councillors, two officers, the event organiser from the Wokingham Secondary Federation as observers – the scene was set – what could possibly go wrong?
Copies of the candidates’ manifestos were made available before the start and this led to the first learning experience – all manifestos are not created equal. Followed quickly by the second, if you want anyone to know what you stand for, you’ve got to get your manifesto to the organiser.
The next learning experience was that of public speaking. It isn’t easy, either in front of your friends, your opponents or complete and utter strangers. And the glasses of water are there for a reason.
Once started, the candidate’s challenge was to deliver their speech in less than three minutes and in a way where the individual points could be heard (basic), understood (good), related to (better), and supported (best).
Shute End aficionados, as well as recent readers of these commentaries, will know that the ‘spud quality’ in the debating chamber isn’t quite perfect, so if you’re too far from the microphone it won’t pick up what you say.
Then again, as Borough Cllr Mumble-Mumble and Cllr Softly-Waffling are well aware, you need to ‘shout up a bit’ so that the folks at the back can hear you.
Of course, choosing the quantity of what you’re going to talk about, as well as the propositions you’re making are important too, as is practising the your delivery so that you can get to the end before the timer starts beeping and you’re told to stop (oops).
First timers also discovered that the effect of nerves is adrenaline and the consequence of this is a distorted perception of time. So what you delivered fluidly at home in the allotted three minutes could come across as mechanical, dryvoiced or a gabble under competition pressure.
That said, speakers made their points with energy and passion, demonstrating the thought they’d each put in to their proposals.
Facing the Inquisition
The voters were then given a few minutes so that each school could put one question to all the candidates to be answered in rotation to give everyone a fair shot.
So if making the speeches was hard, facing the Q&A was even harder.
Only 20 seconds was allowed for an answer and this feels like a lifetime when you don’t have anything to say and the blink of an eye when you do – as anyone who’s faced such questioning will know.
Questions ranged from “well thought out” right on up to a “tighten the thumbscrews” level of difficulty and with few exceptions, the answers ranged from pretty decent through to absolutely excellent.
The seven ballot papers were then distributed to the voters from each school for them to nominate first second and third preferences.
With each school being able to vote for any candidate, their own or another, the completed ballot papers were put into one of WBC’s sealed ballot boxes.
This was taken to the counting station where it was opened and the votes were tallied by WBC’s Democratic and Electoral Services – in the same way as happens at a local or a General Election.
The results were announced by WBC’s returning officer, giving an unequivocal decision as to the outcome.
So congratulations to Charlotte Stokes (St Crispins School), Wokingham’s first Youth MP elected since 2013. Also to Euan Bell (The Piggott School), elected as deputy Youth MP.
Appreciation also to all the pupils and teachers from the seven schools who took part: Bulmershe, The Holt, Maiden Erlegh, Oakbank, The Piggott, St Crispin’s, Waingels.
Collectively you put a quantity and quality of philosophical thinking and political discourse together that sets a challenge for the regular users of the chamber.
The last word …
… goes to the seventh and final question – from Waingels’ spokesperson, Harry Middleton:
“A cynic might say – this council has no relevance to me, they’ll never actually change anything. What would you say to someone who says that and how personally would you want to make tangible change in our community?”
CharlotteStokes, from St Crispin’s School, is congratulated by borough mayor Cllr John Kaiser