Eighty A-level students “Discover Parliament” and get me instead

The Parliament Education Service runs an annual Discover Parliament Programme aimed at 16-18 year olds studying higher level politics, citizenship and general studies.  This afternoon I met 80 students taking part in the Programme.  They were from three schools in Pinner, Chelmsford and Bristol.

As ever on such occasions, the questioning was lively, sometimes challenging and extremely wide-ranging.  We covered – amongst other things – such topics as:

  • aren’t MPs too old (I’d explained that the average age of members of the House of Lords is 69);
  • why aren’t 16 year olds allowed to vote or to sit in Parliament;
  • what did I think of Gordon Brown;
  • should taxes be put up in the current economic situation;
  • should the age for getting a driving licence change;
  • what were my views about David Cameron, Lord Mandelson and the BNP (interesting grouping);
  • what should be done about knife crime and gangs;
  • was “kettling” of G20 protesters fair (from a teacher);
  • should children be taught more about current affairs;
  • did the LibDems have a better record on MPs’ expenses;
  • is the threat of terrorism rising;
  • should there be limits on immigration;
  • was the war in Iraq right; and
  • did I think Labour would win the next General Election and when would it be?

As I said, a lively hour – and an exhilarating one too.

Effectively, these Discover Parliament programmes can only take place during school term time and when Parliament is not sitting.  In practice that means they are only possible for about four weeks a year from the early part of September.  A by-product of Speaker John Bercow’s proposal to shorten Parliament’s summer recess might well be to end these programmes. Whatever the merits or otherwise of Parliament sitting in September (something I personally would favour), it would be a retrograde step to lose this outreach work with young people.

I find it difficult to be sympathetic to the British man whose genitals were fried in Crete

Normally, I would be quite squeamish about the idea of someone having his genitals drenched in Sambuca and then having them set on fire and I would be cringing with sympathy for the man concerned.  However, the story of  Stuart Feltham leaves me singularly unmoved.

His version of events is that he was having a quiet night out with a few friends at the end of his holiday in Crete when a women suddenly appeared, poured something over him and set it alight.

Her version of events – and the women in question is being feted as a national heroine in Greece for the defence of her honour – is that he was drunkenly propositioning her, grabbed her breasts and buttocks, and then exposed himself to her.  She threw her drink at him and walked away, only discovering later that he had (stray cigarette?) caught alight.

Obviously, I don’t know what happened, but I know which version sounds more plausible.

I also know that too many British people behave atrociously when they go away on holiday and that many European resorts are trying to restrict the heavy-boozing and boorish behaviour of their UK visitors.  Frying the worst offenders’ genitalia may seem a little harsh, but I suspect it would make them pause for thought ….

Has the Ministry of Defence lost the plot?

The lead story in today””s Sunday Times is – if true (and we are talking about The Sunday Times here) – quite extraordinary.  According to the article, the Ministry of Defence will be going to the Court of Appeal to try to cut the compensation awards made to two servicemen for the injuries they sustained serving in Iraq in one case and whilst training in the other.  The “principle” that the MoD is seeking to defend is that it should only pay compensation for the injuries received, rather than for any complications that arise during treatment.  Three judges in the High Court had previously ruled that it would be “absurd” to divorce the injury from the treatment.

There should be no quibbling about compensation in such cases.  If the suggestion is that the treatment was at fault, then that should be a matter between the MoD and those providing the treatment (presumably part of the NHS).  It is patently unreasonable to expect service personnel, who have been asked to risk their lives on behalf of the country, first to do battle with the MoD, whom most people might have expected to be defending their interests, and then to sue separately for negligence over the way in which their injuries were treated.

Not only is the decision to go to the Court of Appeal to try to get the compensation awards cut morally wrong, it is also politically crass.  The Government having had a good record previously on the Gurkhas managed to get themselves hammered on their rights to settle here a few months ago.  More recently, there has been the row about helicopter support to our troops in Afghanistan (whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it is a fact that the US provides far more helicopter support proportionally for the number of troops they deploy than we do).  Now there are escalating concerns about the rise in the number of casualties in Afghanistan.  It doesn”t take a political genius to realise that to embark on a row by seeking to cut compensation awards already agreed by the existing appeals process is a battle not worth fighting.  Time for Ministers to get a grip ….