This article was written for the News & Star.
Last week I got to meet a group of students from Trinity School who included a visit to Westminster as part of their trip to London. Many of the group were history students, so they already had an appreciation of British politics and the significance of The Palace of Westminster, and it was a pleasure to show them around – in particular to give them the opportunity to see the House of Commons Chamber as well as the House of Lords.
I certainly hoped they enjoyed the experience, but the interesting thing from my perspective is that it was clear that this was the next generation of voters – and in the case of some, I am sure, the next generation of political activists and politicians.
A large part of any visit to Parliament is to talk about our democracy, its history, and how it all works. But if you step back and think about it, Britain is very unusual. We have had stable institutions for centuries and the concept of the rule of law is firmly established. As for democracy, Britain has been referred to as the mother of Parliaments due to the adoption of the Westminster system by so many other countries. Even countries that don’t have Parliamentary systems have taken a number of features from Westminster (the US House of Representatives has a “Speaker” and a “sergeant at arms” for example).
But while the idea of elections, democracy, and a free society are well embedded in our country, if you look across the world it is quite different. Indeed, most people do not live in a democratic country with just 29% of the global population living free.
We should therefore take pride in our democracy, but also realise that we need to actively look after it and nurture it as best we can. We should accept that we will not all agree on everything but always respect others who do have a different opinion. A democratic system can take generations to build, but can be lost in a mere moment.
I would absolutely recommend that all schools in Carlisle consider contacting the UK Parliament Education Centre if they are planning a visit to London so that when they are down they can see the Houses of Parliament and learn about our democratic history (and future!). After all, it is our duty to ensure that the next generation understand and appreciate the importance of democracy as well as what a privilege it is to live in a country that remains a beacon of freedom for many peoples across the world who aren’t so lucky as we.
More information about The UK Parliament Education Centre can be found here: https://learning.parliament.uk/