Rosie Winterton, Labour Minister for Transport and also for Yorkshire and the Humber, came on Thursday to listen to and discuss with “politically active students”, their views on the government’s future policy agenda.
“One of the things that Gordon Brown wanted to do was to give a preview of what he was going to do and to get people’s comments,” Winterton said. This particular group of students were the first people she had talked to under the new initiative. Rather than a ‘normal’ meeting where attendees throw awkward questions, the event took a more discursive format. Each student was given a 12 page full colour document entitled ‘Preparing Britain for the Future: the Government’s Draft Legislative Programme 2008/09’.
The draft was in four sections; finance, opportunities, public services and people. Many of the proposals were met with criticism and the questions posed by students reflected this.
One query was about why students did not receive any funding for Masters courses. Winterton dismissed this, saying that not enough people have any qualifications. “We’ve set quite an ambitious target of the numbers of young people who go to University. As a socialist I take your point, but I have people [in my constituency] who don’t even get on the first rung.”
What about future transport investment, given the increasing levels of road congestion? “[This is a] massive issue if we are going to deal with the environment. The first thing to say is that we cannot build our way out of congestion.”
The question of binge drinking caused a lot of argument. Head of Politics Matt Matravers jokingly addressing the room of students asking “what would you do?” While some students defended 24-hour drinking laws, one student said that the greatest concern was not the drinking, but the violence that resulted after it. Winterton described the suggestion of drinkers being forced to help out at a hospital’s Accident and Emergency department as “an interesting one”, but with regards to anti-social behaviour, said “I feel that we should get these boy racers to clean up their own neighbourhoods, which would help everybody.”
Matt Matravers, who co-ordinated the meeting, said “the event was very enjoyable, with very lively discussion. I thought the students were very interesting, and the Minister was equally robust.”
Elected to Parliament in 1997 as MP for Doncaster Central, Winterton was previously Head of Office for John Prescott.