As you may have recently heard, Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament was deemed unlawful by Supreme Court Judges. The unanimous conclusion reached by all six justices inspired a new debate about the UK’s uncodified constitution which is formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgements and conventions. So, what does this tell us about the checks and balances system in the UK and why is this important for a healthy democracy?
One of the key functions of Parliament is to produce legislation, allow MPs to act on behalf of voters and their constituents, in doing so they must hold government – the cabinet (the executive) to account. The role of Parliament in the Brexit debate has sparked a series of discussions about the role that Parliament plays in our everyday lives. Often reporting about Parliament is heavily underscored by inter and intra political party rivalry, contentious policy debates. But is Parliament more than just a battleground of ideas for the elected members of the House of Lords and Commons?
My personal experience of being actively engaged within Parliament and Parliamentarians as a member of UK Youth Voice has proven to me that, our votes and voices on important issues are accounted for. My involvement in Parliament began through the frustration that I felt around steep cuts to public services. Moved by the impact that these cuts had on my local community in Leicester, I began volunteering with the ‘Labour Friends of Sure Start’ group, as a research assistant. I worked closely with a local councillor to provide data about the impact that the closures of Sure Start Centres had on communities across the UK. This experience provided me with a useful understanding of how local councillors work with MPs to lobby for change on social issues. Inspired by the change that can be made when local leaders and MPs work together, I was further motivated to engage with Parliament as an institution once more.
In 2016, I was fortunate to be part of the UN award winning ParliaMentors Programme. I was one of 50 young people, selected from across the UK to be mentored by an MP who oversaw us set up a social action project. At the time, I was completing my undergraduate degree in International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London. I had begun volunteering with local organisations and saw how the community worked cohesively to address major social issues such as homelessness. Yet the media’s relentless misrepresentation of Tower Hamlets had caused inaccurate perceptions of the borough and its residents. Hence, I set up the Humans of Tower Hamlet’s exhibition with my colleagues to celebrate unsung heroes committed to enhancing the lives of community members in East London. My team was mentored by Stephen Pound MP, and the project was featured on BBC Asian Network’s Big Debate Show highlighting the importance of young people engaging with MP’s to achieve social change. Determined to continue my work helping to address social injustice, this time on an international level I once again engaged with Parliament. This time, working on an advocacy basis in collaboration with Aegis Trust.
My advocacy team lobbied the late MP Jo Cox to pass an Early Day Motion, so Parliament would host a debate on why the UN should not use their veto power on issues of genocide. Our campaign ‘Less Veto More Action’, gained global traction and was supported by STAND International. My experience taught me that through careful organisation at a grassroots level, with driven young people, Parliamentarians can and will respond to our calls to action.
More recently I submitted written evidence to the House of Common’s Foreign Affairs Committee for their ‘Global Britain and India Inquiry’. My evidence allowed me to utilise the insights I had gained from working with the South Asian Muslim community, in particular women, on how members of the South Asian diaspora can and should be involved in consultations with the Foreign Office to shape the UK’s relationship with India post-Brexit. My research was not only published by the committee, but it was also cited in their official report ‘Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India ties’. The report was responded to by the Government, who welcomed engagement with members of the diaspora to bolster ties between the UK and India. This was significant for me as all too often, conversations around the UK’s foreign policy fail to encompass the views of informed women of colour. I would not have been able to have my voice captured on this significant international matter had it not been for the committees that exist within Parliament which provide a platform for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard.
I’d highly recommend that young people choose to get involved in Parliament and do so by addressing an issue that they are most passionate about. You do not have to identify with a political party or person to make the most of Parliament. You simply need the courage to take a stand on a particular issue you feel most passionate about. This is not just important for the future of our democracy, but it is key to enacting real tangible social, political and economic change for generations to come.
Written by Nadia Khan, UK Youth Voice
At UK Youth we don’t want to tackle the challenges facing the youth sector alone, if you would like to join the UK Youth Movement and #StandWithYouth, you can sign up here: https://www.ukyouth.org/our-movement