Within the House of Commons there is much concern about the lower turnout figures at most of this nation’s political elections. Voter apathy, especially amongst the young has to be reversed and, despite television coverage of parliamentary activity and media coverage of politician and political stories this country is showing an alarming trend in having a reducing populace.
I’m convinced that if everybody could be absorbed into the daily workings of the Houses of Parliament for a brief time then even our most hardened critics would see that their vote was important and that the end result that is the British Parliament is not something about which to be apathetic.
This summer, as last year, I invited on university politics student to work in my office in the House of Commons as part of a work experience course study. This year I chose a young lady, Joanne Laban, and before she started I asked her to keep a note of her daily perceptions and to let me have a report at the end of that time.
Her overall impression was one of shock – at the amount of work we parliamentarians have to deal with, the size of our offices, the number of staff who work here and the hours we keep.
The myth that the younger electorate have of the work we carry out was soon dispelled as she became aware that it is not champagne and free lunches. The correspondence alone was an eye opener and she said that her friends would not believe this as they think that constituents no longer write or email their Members of Parliament.
Joanne shadowed me for part of the time but mainly worked in concert with my research assistant. She attended standing committees and a select committee I was on. She was in Westminster Hall when I took my place as Conservative Front Bench spokesman on Football and the EU debate. She was in the House of Commons public gallery to watch me speak during a debate and, in between, she was researching and creating a lot of material for two future debates for me.
By the time she left, Joanne said that she was looking forward to a holiday! In her report Joanne explained that the shocks started on the first morning when she was surprised that we all did not work in large offices. We weren’t able to give her a desk for her own use, and on her first day with a whistle stop tour of both Houses she saw that many of the newer MPs had very small and tight rooms to work in.
After her first day the student told my researcher and me that she found it very tiring being here from ten o’clock till five o’clock. Although she knew that the hours of work for parliamentarians were not the usual business ones she did not expect that so many people finished so late on many evenings. After finding out about the hours we keep here, the thought of the many dinners and other meetings we attend as well astonished her.
Her discovery of our work here changed her view of a life of an MP completely. At the end of her three weeks, having daily watched my diary, she questioned whether MPs actually have a social life which does not contain anything to do with politics.
Joanne was a joy to have here on work experience because she embroiled herself in so much of the Commons work activities. Most pleasing of all was the fact that she felt that she would love to come and work here once she’d done her degree.
I’m convinced that the closer people get to the real truth of politics the more this will motivate them to learn more about the political world and therefore ensure they vote at every election in the future.