Bal­lot … Count … Re­sult – jus’ like tha’

The Wokingham Paper - - FRONT PAGE - caveat.lec­[email protected] TONY JOHN­SON

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.

Par­tic­i­pants a-plenty

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?

Speak­ers cor­nered

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?”


Pic­ture: Tony John­son

Char­lotteStokes, from St Crispin’s School, is con­grat­u­lated by bor­ough mayor Cllr John Kaiser

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