A week ago we learnt a new word…
verb [ I or T ] /ˈfɪl.ɪ.bʌs.tər/
to make a long speech in order to delay or prevent a new law being made
Available from: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/filibuster
We also lost a little bit of faith in democracy.
As a youth council we supported our local MP, Jim McMahon, to draft his Private Members Bill to extend the voting franchise to include 16 and 17 year olds. We were hopeful that the 2nd reading of this bill, held on the 3rd November, would see the democratic process in action and a lively debate ending in a vote that could see it move to the committee stage. How wrong could we be!!!
Through lobbying politicians and trying to mobilise young people and Youth Councils from across the UK, to contact their MP and support votes at 16 in Parliament on Friday we had reasons to feel confident. We set off very very early that Friday morning (who knew there were two 6 o’clocks in a day) and arrived in the House of Commons knowing we were second on the agenda.
The first bill was very important and debated Mental Health, death’s in custody and in particular how this related to Olaseni Lewis, a young man who while, being restrained in a police station, had died. Initially it was great to see MPs from all parties debating this issue and coming together, trying to make real change for vulnerable people across the United Kingdom. Politicians making good suggestions about what the committee should look at and discussing new technologies not only for the safety of those being detained but also those Police Officers and mental health professionals carrying out their duties. Their wasn’t one MP who was against this bill and British Politics was ‘getting it right’ on behalf of Olaseni’s family who watched on from the public gallery.
After a while, however, it seemed something was a little strange. The MPs seemed to be going off on some very tenuous tangents. One MP started to discuss how one’s mental health can be devastated by twitter. They just rambled on for 10 minutes about how your mental health can be damaged by social media. This happened again and again with politicians standing up to either repeat what had already been said or to go off on such tangents that one MP almost forgot what they were talking about!! In total 6 MPs employed this filibuster technique talking from between 20 and 30 mins, not offering suggestions on how the bill could move forward and they seemed to have very tenuous examples from their constituencies.
We know that every single MP who spoke that day, if we challenged them, would say that death of anyone in custody (but especially those with bad mental health) is an important issue that needs debating fully. We agree. We assume they would say to make sure that
any legislation created from this bill needs the opportunity to be talked through properly so that they get it right first time. We agree. What we don’t agree with is politicians using this issue to prevent a debate. Conversations were overheard with MPs being told that their 5 minute speech needed to last 30 minutes. MPs, sat on the back benches, used hand gestures to let those who were speaking know they needed to continue with their speech. Obviously forgetting the microphones, they were even overheard saying ‘keep talking, stretch it out’ and giggled as they did it. Oh the irony as later their colleagues would discuss the maturity of 16 and 17 year olds!
Now please do not think this post is a rant that we should have the automatic right to vote because we pay tax, far from it. Once the debate started the MPs, who spoke both for and against votes at 16, made very good points and it was good to see . We would have to say that we don’t agree that gambling, drinking alcohol or watching a film rated 18 (by the way Terminator is a 15, just saying) is the same as voting for a councillor or an MP but we respect other people’s points of view. All we wanted was for the House to vote on whether or not this bill should go to the committee stage. Yes we were hopeful but either way we believed that the democratic process would work. We were wrong. Coming back on the train that day we had 2 questions:
Firstly to the MPs who were filibustering: What are you afraid of? All we wanted was for you to debate the issue. You could have still voted against it.
Secondly to UK Parliament: How can 6 MPs slowing a debate to prevent another happening be democratic? They represent less than 1% of the 650 elected UK parliamentarians and less than 4% of the MPs who, we were told, were on the estate waiting to vote on the bill. Yet their views on votes at 16 overruled all others.
We know we probably won’t get answers to these questions but today, 10th November 2017, the UK Youth Parliament debated issues in the House of Commons to decide what their campaign would be for 2018, this debate included votes at 16. We will leave you with this thought:
IF Private Members Bill No 9 had been fully debated, then had gone to a vote and failed the Members of Youth Parliament may have decided that there was little point in campaigning on this issue for 2018. However, because of your filibustering young people feel cheated and denied their voice so chose votes at 16 as their campaign. We will now fight more vehemently for what we are due. We are not going away and we will have our day again.
Thank you for your political education.
Oldham Youth Council