The Westminster visit for the Lower Sixth politics students arguably proved even more useful this year than on previous occasions. The official guides are all great, lovely people, of course, with a fund of good stories, but there is always the sense that they are showing you round a merely historic palace and not a living, evolving hub of democracy. That the Palace of Westminster is both, of course, simply mirrors the confusion inherent in much of Britain's political set-up, but having MP (and Liberal Chief Whip) Paul Burstow conduct the tour this time, along with one of his researchers, breathed a bit of fresh air into the tour. Here, at least, were people who understood the place as an animated political institution, and their insights and comments were more attuned to a group of politics students than some of the official tours.
As we moved through the Lords, Mr. Burstow spoke of its self-governing nature during debates (the Lords Speaker not being a presiding officer in the way the Commons Speaker is). Whatever his views on future reform of that awkward chamber, he certainly thought that its legislative process was often tighter and produced better scrutiny than that of his own chamber, the Commons. A few choice comments about the statues in the Members' Lobby also provided some entertainment.
It was a good tour, and the Question and Answer session in the Jubilee Cafe at the end produced some interesting elaborations of Lib Dem policy, especially when Sutton's MP was pressed by Lib Dem activist Max Daly on the subject of grammar schools! The momentum behind the discussion was, however, rather limited to just one or two people, which was a shame. Former student and current political aide Pier Barrett managed to produce some more lively responses, although the deafening silence that greeted the question "What current political issues would you want to ask a minister about?" spoke volumes about the political engagement of some of this group of, er, politics students!! Voting at 16? Having some interest at 16 wouldn't be a bad start!
Mr. Burstow will, of course, be at the Charlie Edwards organised Question Time debate at SGS on Monday evening, along with his Conservative rival Phillipa Stroud, and the UKIP candidate for Sutton and Cheam as well. That really should be a must attend event for politics students!