On Tuesday a Parliamentary debate took place that could have been very positive given it was about involving young people in politics, but sadly it began very negatively and by the time Nick Gibb got up to speak on behalf of the Government he managed to twist it even more than where it had begun. Encouraging pupils and students to consider politics and democracy makes a huge amount of sense. Inevitably doing so will lead to a range of ideas and reactions, some of which will lead the Government and their opposition parties to feel challenged, and it is perfectly reasonable for this to happen. The starting off point for the debate was under the title of ‘Political Neutrality in Schools’ and Marcus Fysh who is the MP for Yeovil began by stating:
“I beg to move, That this House has considered political neutrality in schools. I have two children of primary school age and my wife teaches. Clearly, I am also a Member of Parliament, and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on education. The APPG plans to do some work on the mental health and wellbeing of our children in the classroom, which I will come to later….I did not seek the debate to suggest that classrooms are a hotbed of radicalisation. However, I have been approached by concerned parents—I am sure I am not the only Member in that position—about incidents, in the run-up to December’s general election and at other times, that I am told included the airing of strong and aggressive political views…..In the last few years we have seen a coarsening of our political debate. In too many cases, reasoned debate has given way to name calling and abuse. Politicians are thick skinned, and we are increasingly used to people firing abuse at us from the comfort of their own homes. Our young children, however, will not understand that, and they should not be asked to.”
It is worth pointing out that Mr Fysh has only been an MP since 2015 but in that time he has according to Wikipedia “He was a supporter of Leave Means Leave, a pro-Brexit lobby group. and campaigned to leave the EU in the 2016 Referendum.” Now of course there were abusive elements from both the Vote Leave and the Vote Remain groups. No doubt many of the people in both groups were far from abusive, but unless someone is deeply naïve or deeply hypocritical, the members of both of these campaigns and indeed the people who simply had opinions about such matters would all know that abuse came from the campaigning and it spread a long way. Along with Marcus Fysh another strong campaigner for us to leave the EU was Nicholas Gibb who like Marcus Fysh may never have been abusive himself, but should be fully aware of such matters unless he is very dumb. However when Gibb started to speak this is what he said:
“I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Fysh for raising this important issue and the excellent way in which he opened the debate. He is right to warn about the coarsening of political debate in the country, which concerns many of us in this House. He is also right that young people should be encouraged to be passionate but not coercive in political debate and how they engage in it. One of the most important principles that we want to uphold in education is political neutrality, in relation to both the knowledge taught through the school curriculum and the professional conduct of teachers in how they support pupils in and out of the classroom.”
Now of course no one would suggest that Party based politicians should be politically neutral, but given how much abuse has been raised in Parliament by Politicians and indeed outside of Parliament over campaigns such as Vote Leave and Vote Remain, it is very hard to then argue for neutrality elsewhere. If perhaps Fysh and Gibb had taken the approach to concede the mistakes made during that campaign by politicians, things could have been a great deal better in the debate. Tragically Fysh only criticised a non politician for the offense he was aware of, completely ignoring the offense his colleagues had created and still do to this week!