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Environmental Debate, hosted by Bite the Ballot

29th November 2012

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Tuesday's Parliament debate saw tone positive but often patronising as MPs tackle environment questions from youth.

Where: Houses of Parliament

When: Tuesday November 27th

Chair: Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP

Panel:  Zac Goldsmith MP (Conservative, Richmond Park and North Kingston)
             Danny Chivers (Environmental Author, Activist and Performance Poet)
             Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion)

If this debate taught us anything, it is that the government do not know how to interact with young people.

I was, at several intervals, reminded of the BBC comedy drama The Thick of It, and MP Peter Mannion’s (played by Roger Allam) failed attempts at ingratiating with pupils at a local school over iPhone app development. This comparison peaked when John Bercow used the terms ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ when referring to the large conglomerates versus those campaigning for the Robin Hood Tax.

I won’t go as far as to describe the debate as a fiasco, but there were problems from the off. First of all, we started late; something always to be expected from this type of event, but which unfortunately created a snowball effect for the rest of the evening, lumping questions together, giving the MPs more chance to ignore the questions they didn’t like.

Caroline Lucas, who I (as well as many others I’m sure) was most interested to hear speak, left the debate after a grand total of twenty minutes. She had another important engagement apparently. I’m not here to dish out blame for this setback, but let’s just say it didn’t discourage the view that the government are not interested in what young people have to say.

The panel, especially the Speaker, seemed very keen on putting the emphasis on the young people’s questions rather than the panel’s answers. This is all very well and good, but surely having your questions verbalised but then unanswered is just as frustrating as not being able to verbalise them at all!

Overall, the tone of the debate was positive: encouraging young people to keep up the fight, assuring them that they can make a difference. This is definitely to be encouraged, as the alternative would be to tell them not to bother as it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.

But I can’t help but feel that, despite the reinstallation of positive action (which surely these young people already had because they’d bothered to turn up), the debate was rather pointless. MPs answered questions in a typically evasive manner, telling inspiring stories but never once making any kind of promise of guarantee.

 It’s all well and good to ensure that the crowd would make the effort to move towards a greener future, but that’s not enough. It’s the people outside that room, the people walking the corridors and the streets that need encouragement, and they need it from the government.

This country needs a strong government, that won’t be bullied by the media or power hungry corporations, and to make a stand, be brave enough to make changes that would probably make them unpopular but are necessary to prevent environmental catastrophe.

And until we see proof of this, the endless positivity and encouragement from the government, and even admirable activists like Danny Chivers, will essentially remain empty and meaningless.


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