On a dark and spooky Hallowe’en night, the University of York Labour Society welcomed the Member of Parliament for Leeds Central, Hilary Benn, to speak to students in an evening talk.
Much of the evening’s discussion was informed by opinions from members of the audience – Mr. Benn gave a short talk on his beliefs and politics but within a few minutes or so, he concluded his speech and said that he wanted to hear from students themselves.
Students asked the MP about topics such as student fees, the European Union, economics and Labour’s economic policy and HS2. There were several York Labour members in the audience and, interestingly, the odd ‘York Tory’ hiding in the crowd. Towards the end, Mr. Benn held a quick poll about lowering the age for voting in elections in Britain. He is keenly in favour of sixteen-year-olds having the ability to vote in elections, much like the voting exhibited in the recent Scottish referendum. In this poll, the majority of students were in agreement; others, such as myself, believed that the voting age should remain the same.
Mr. Benn also cleared up a few unsavoury remarks that have been made against the previous government by its critics. He reminded us that the recession affected the globe, not just our country, and it was not the fault of the British government that the Western world fell into a credit crunch and recession. To me this wasn’t a desperate defence of the previous government at all, rather a valid argument to make – while we can’t deny the role of the previous government in the financial crisis, it was not responsible for ‘ruining the world’s finances’ or any other terrible descriptions you might have heard. Accuracy is essential!
Before Mr. Benn’s arrival it felt daunting to be meeting an MP, but I was instantly struck by his friendliness, approachability and willingness to engage: moments after entering the room and removing his coat, Mr. Benn proceeded to shake the hand and ask the name of every person in the room. He cared about the opinion of every one of the students in the audience, wanting us to provide the grounds for debate and asking for everyone to ask a question, refusing to take questions from the same people.
After the poll on the voting age, he invited me to say why I was in favour of keeping the age the same. Despite disagreeing with each other, I did not feel intimidated answering him. In a distant, cloudy future, I have my own political aspirations; Mr Benn was the perfect template for a warm and welcoming politician, dedicated to his community and constituency, and also a person who stands up for his own beliefs.
My thanks go to the University of York Labour Society for hosting Hilary Benn MP.