Council Report for Trinity 2017

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Eight days after completing my final examination, it was time for my final corporation meeting. As a student I was finished with Wilberforce, but as a governor I still had one last job to do.

My report for this term was rather shorter than were most of its predecessors. Whereas a year ago we had spent most of this term fretting about an end of year event (which was originally envisioned as an elaborate outdoor festival, but which after months of deliberation was reduced to a sweet stall at the back of a lunchtime musical performance), this time we had that responsibility lifted from us by the PE department. Their sports presentation evening doubled as the summer ball for the year, which left us as councillors fast running out of business. We were also running out of people.

As the weeks flew by and examinations eclipsed schooling as the primary reason for one to be present at college, we found that attendance steadily declined as councillors devoted time to urgent revision, or found that their examinations clashed with meetings. Before the end of May our president (Sohaib Muhammad) had actually finished his courses altogether and moved to Manchester. With the dawning realisation that our council would go extinct before it was dissolved, the decision was made to prorogue ourselves before the half-term break and not hold any meetings in June.

We did get some things done, though: After the announcement of a general election, we stepped up our efforts to get students registered to vote. Already this had been a project recommended to us, but at that time it seemed the only elections this year would be the local ones – and not even in our area. With Mrs May going to the country (coincidentally the 56th parliament sat last on the same day we resumed our meetings after Easter), this key to democracy took on new-found importance.

I  personally erected several large posters at key positions around the campus with the date of the registration deadline and the web address for the digital service. The college also sent group emails to students to reinforce this, as well making paper registration forms available from the main reception desk. On 18th May we forwent our penultimate plenary in favour of directly handing out such forms to students during the lunch period – although a breakdown in communications meant that this did not quite achieve what we had planned.

At our final meeting before adjourning sine die, we discussed possible measures to improve the effectiveness of the student council for future cohorts. Looking back at the previous two years, it was decided that recruitment should begin early, taking advantage of prospective students appearing at welcome days in June and July. We even floated the idea of setting up a shadow council during the early summer which could then hit the ground running come September. We also suggested to ditch the coordinators and subcommittees which, from our experience, existed only in theory and even then very faintly. There was support for having council meetings scheduled as an enrichment activity, giving it a full hour in a student’s timetable rather than being hastily packed into a lunch break. Finally, I was insistent that it had to be students themselves who did the majority of the talking – for in review of my minutes I found that invariably it was the staff-members who would dominate the dialogue.

I was given a round of applause after my presentation and thanked by the governors for my submissions at this and the previous five meetings. It has been mentioned to me several times that earlier student governors have rarely if ever attended so many corporation meetings during their tenures.

Membership of the student council – and attendance of the corporation – has been one of the defining features of my time at Wilberforce. I can only hope that my successor gets as much out of it as I did.

Revision Conference at Hull University

Does anybody have the key?

Just one month after my Applicant Experience Day, I found myself again visiting the University of Hull. Announced just six days ago, this visit took was supposed to give all of Wilberforce’s advanced level students a crash course in revision and examination technique. The day had a less than auspicious start as it emerged that a rather high proportion of students had opted to boycott the event. Whereas the college and the university had been expecting hundreds of students, only a few dozen actually turned up.

Following a brisk ride in an unexpectedly spacious bus, we were ushered into a new conference hall to be presented with gift bags (including the 2018 prospectus, a branded paper pad and a non-functioning pen) and given an inspirational speech. Our first workshop focused on time management, with each of us making a tally of how many hours per week we spent on work, sleep, revision etc. In the second workshop we were taught about the different techniques for improving factual recall. This naturally involved being shown a long list of terms and challenged to remember all of them after a few minutes.  The third session took us to a computer suite at which we made revision timetables to follow. As we had no student accounts on the university’s servers, each of us received a free memory stick on which to store the files.

We returned to our original meeting point for the buffet lunch, which had been advertised to us in the automated email (perhaps in the desperate hope of enticing a few more visitors). There were no flapjacks this time, but the triangular sandwiches were as numerous as ever. When that had concluded we were, for reasons not entirely clear, taken on a tour of the Brynmor Jones Library, after which we were gathered for a few minutes in a small classroom and asked to fill out satisfaction surveys for future such visits.

Had this excursion been undertaken months earlier we might have seen the merit of it, but by launching it at such short notice and after the Easter holiday the university probably stripped the event of most of its usefulness because at this stage most people had already devised all the revision routine they were going to follow and many, if anything, resented the trip taking some hours out of their actual revision time.

Council Report for Lent 2017

On Wednesday I made my penultimate appearance before the college corporation to present a report on what the council had done since Christmas. When I do this for the sixth and final time in July, my Wilberforce days will effectively be finished.

We only had one normal meeting in January – the most memorable business being a question about Panini provision in the canteens – the other three were given over to outsiders. One week we were given a lesson on British values, and asked about what we considered to be integral to national identity. In the next we were given safeguard training – our assistant principal Ben Wallis took us through the college’s security procedures and taught us how to identify signs of radicalisation. The month was closed out by a visit from representatives of the University of Hull, who wanted a focus group to review their latest prospectus.

In February Mr Wallis returned to brief us on the Area-Based Review (this I learned at the previous corporation meeting in December but certain information was still classified). Having rejected the incentives offered by the government to convert to academy status, Wilberforce will instead be teaming up with Franklin, Wyke and John Leggott colleges to form a new federation (though I am told there is still a dispute about the name).  We also began planning for a fundraising event for Comic Relief.

At the beginning of March the Council assisted with a voter registration presentation – handing out leaflets instructing students on how to join the electoral rolls. Our major triumph of this term was Red Nose Day, on which our sweet stall and archery competition raised just over a hundred pounds.

Aside from this, the persistent topic of debate during our weekly meetings was the problem of littering and vandalism on campus. In the previous year the litter problem had been far worse – certain communal areas being continually strewn with food waste and discarded packaging – but although the staff had taken measures this year to tackle the problem – repeated offenders being made to clean the college in high-visibility jackets – there were still frequent complaints from students who struggled to find tables not strewn with filth, and some of the boys’ toilets have been closed for months due to heavy damage. Sitting in on one Council meeting, the senior management told us that hand dryers were being kicked off walls, mirrors smashed, pipes bent and drains blocked with severe financial consequences for the college.

I confessed that we could not find any viable solutions beyond what had already been tried. Some councillors suggested greater use of closed circuit television and card scanners on toilet doors, but this was rejected on the grounds of expense (personally I also found the idea rather Orwellian in its implications). What staff (and governors) suggested to us was that students themselves needed to collectively enact a culture shift, and to act quickly when they saw their peers misbehaving. Doubts about this system were immediately apparent: Fundamentally the problem lies with the way that a sixth-form college is constituted in comparison with a school – the “ethos” as my old headmaster would say. Whereas a school environment is highly structured and controlled, with clearly defined boundaries of acceptability and an obvious presence of authority, a sixth-form college is by nature more open and decentralised. The lack of form groups or assemblies means that the didactic approach is unavailable (indeed, distributing any information to the whole student body usually proves an unreliable and cumbersome endeavour), and the resulting lack of any close-knit community, amplified by the high turnover of students from one year to the next as a course only runs for 2-4 years rather than 5-7, means that establishing any values in the collective student consciousness will always be an uphill struggle. The only remaining idea was to have lectures given by the learning progress mentors in the style of those on British values, though we cannot guarantee that sessions would be attended and attention paid.

Following my presentation, I was addressed by another governor, Diana Palmer, with a notice about Brain Tumour Research. She expressed a hope that the council could organise an event at some point in the Trinity term to raise money for this charity. I agreed to move the item at our next meeting – which was yesterday. In our twelfth and final plenary of the Lent term we agreed to stage “Wear A Hat Day” on Friday 12th May.

Our council now prorogues for the Easter holiday, to sit next on Thursday 27th April. Most likely our sessions from then on will be for another end of year event.

Not long left now!

Meeting Michael Foale CBE

Do my teeth look okay?

Do my teeth look okay?

During the eighteen months during which I have been a Wilberforce Student, I have met many notable figures. By last Christmas the college had hosted two MPs, an MEP, a baron and a bishop. Today, though, we had an astronaut.

Colin Michael Foale CBE PhD has experience of six shuttle missions, and holds the record for the most time spent in space by any UK citizen. Today he gave a presentation about his career path to being an astronaut. He originally believed that only pilots could have gone onto space missions, but instead found his way in as a scientist.

He attended Queens’ College, Cambridge, attaining a first class degree in Natural Sciences and later a doctorate in Laboratory Astrophysics.Twice he unsuccessfully applied to NASA. Dr Foale showed us footage of the Challenger disaster in 1986, when a shuttle blew up barely a minute after launch and killed all seven occupants. After the disaster, Foale told us, enthusiasm for space only grew. He told us that for his third application essay he abandoned talk of his lifelong dreams and instead focused on the difficulties that the administration then faced, particularly relating to the crash. He was accepted in 1987.

He may have fixed a space station, but can he master Power Point?

He may have fixed a space station, but can he master Power Point?

During his tenure Foale suffered catastrophes of his own. He gave a graphic account the time in 1997 when the Progress M-34 supply craft collided with the Mir station. Ordinarily the Progress ships used the Kurs radio telemetry system to facilitate its docking procedures. This was manufactured by the Kiev Radio Factory, and following the dissolution of the Soviet Union it fell under the jurisdiction of the independent Ukraine, whereas most other things relating to space flight were inherited by the Russian Federation. The Russian Federal Space Agency was at the time facing severe budget cutbacks due to economic troubles and resented having to pay its former constituent republic vast sums of money for the use of Kurs, and so wanted to examine the option of going without. This particular docking attempt was therefore done under the TORU system – meaning that the ship was controlled manually with a camera and two joysticks.

In his presentation, Dr Foale told us (with the aid of his own amateur footage) that the pilot had misjudged the angle of approach, with the result that M-34 damaged Mir‘s solar panels and punched a hole in the Spektr module. Foale was sent into the Soyuz escape craft with the expectation that Mir would be abandoned. He recalled the sensation of his ears popping as the interior began to de-pressurise. Instead they stayed on board to insert a hatch over Spektr’s entrance to seal of the other modules. This stemmed the air leak, but getting it into position required the uncoupling of several cables, with the result that the station lost power. It was also tumbling in space, its orbit having been disrupted by the collision. Foale used his scientific education to analyse the movement of the stars past his window, and from that worked out how to stabilise the station using Soyuz‘s rockets. Eventually power returned when Mir drifted back into sunlight.

Spektr damaged by the collision

Spektr damaged by the collision

We were also shown some of the comparatively mundane realities of living in space. Videos were shown of Foale exercising with bungee straps in lieu of gravity, and of drinking water from a floating sphere. The students also saw a fly-through tour of another space station, showing crew at work and internal walls lined with sacks of spare underwear.

When the presentation proper concluded, Dr Foale took questions from his audience. I asked him what he saw in the future of manned space travel, and he told me to look out for inflatable hotels arriving next year. He also said that things would really kick off when valuable materials could be mined from other planets.

After about ten minutes of questions and answers, the fire alarm went off. In contrast to the instant evacuations which that noise would normally trigger, staff went out to investigate before confirming that we had to leave. The presentation informally concluded in the car park, where Dr Foale took some more questions from passers-by and stopped for some group photographs. Following the all-clear, our guest went back indoors for an interview with BBC Radio Humberside. I and three other students followed him so that we could be interviewed as well.

That evening our visitor did another presentation, though for paying external guests rather than Wilberforce students. Throughout the day we also had a planetarium, lent to us by the University of Hull, set up in the atrium, and visiting pupils from other schools in the area.

A large black igloo-like structure

Dr Foale was accompanied in his visit by Chris Barber of the International Space School Educational Trust. He advised us that if ever we set up an organisation we should look for a more memorable name. He also remarked that the demolition of two of his former residences showed the degree to which Hull honoured his legacy.

FURTHER READING

Council Report for Michaelmas 2016

A canteen in darkness

The meeting didn’t last that long, did it?

Today was my last day at college for this year. Next week I shall be in Cambridge, giving an interview of Selwyn College, and after that the Christmas holiday begins. I may not see Wilberforce until January.

This term began for me exactly three months ago on Thursday 8th September. As the student council had dissolved several weeks prior, I had the odd experience of reverting to nothingness for the first few days. This state of affairs, though, was short-lived: I had already been asked to return as Secretary for my second year and my reappointment had near-immediate effect.

Last year the council had a slow start as our convener, Katherine Oldershaw, held an introductory session first and then launched the presidential elections. Only after Thomas Gill had been declared victorious (with Miss Alice Longton as his Vice-President) did the council finally begin on the 10th November. This time, per our requests, we had our first meeting on 22nd September. The fact that we had changed the order of events meant that the council was headless for the first four meetings. Katherine essentially made me the acting leader, including making provisional portfolio appointments and chairing once in her absence. The new members (there were only three continuing presences) were eager to make suggestions for improving the college, in particular putting forth a proposal for a so-called “Holistic Pamper Day” to ease the stress of examinations.

Our first major event was on 6th October, when councillors ran a stall at the college’s Freshers’ fair. This aimed to get more people involved in the council, as well as advertising the presidential election and selling cards for the National Union of Students. The election itself was done by email, with polls open from 17th to 21st October. The winner was Mr Sohaib Muhammad, while the runner up (who then became Vice-President) was Miss Reham Bela.

On 4th November, The Lord Norton of Louth gave his speech. My report on the event made its way to Gina Page, Assistant Private Secretary at the Lord Speaker’s Office, who seemed rather impressed.

On 10th November the council’s scheduled meeting was replaced by a session with Tim Blackburn, who wished to advertise to us the Seeds of Change programme. He suggested that students form a company (his preferred form was the worker co-operative, and he gave us pamphlets to this effect) to sell the produce grown on college grounds, in particular concentrating on pizzas with college-grown toppings. He also showed us the kinds of things which could have been bought with the profits, such as outdoor shelters or new furniture.

I was not present for the Children in Need events of 18th November, but reports said that the council had collectively raised £70 for its part. At our meeting on 1st December we debated whether to go ahead or not with the Seeds of Change proposal. Ultimately we decided to put out a student survey on the matter to gauge the general level of interest. A councillor also requested a survey on how to deal with lunchtime queueing (this issue has been a perpetual bug). It was at this meeting that I and the president were formally invited to the meeting of the corporation.

This was to be Muhammad’s first such meeting and my fourth, though it was my first time as a full member. The corporation (which might as well be called the board of governors) contains two student members. The President of the Student Council is automatically one of these, with the other post being open for any councillor to take. All members of the council are additionally allowed to attend corporation meetings as observer status, as I did (the second governorship having gone to Vice-President Longton, though she never actually attended).

The meeting lasted from 16:30 to 19:00. Ordinarily the Student Council section was done first, and the students were not obligated to remain afterwards (indeed I have several times seen other governors disappear midway through sessions). This time, however, our presentation was buried deep in the agenda. A knock-on effect of this was that our gubernatorial appointments did not formally take place until about an hour into the meeting, which also meant that we were not actually allowed to read some of the key documentation for the first stretch. The report was well appreciated, and the governors offered to publish it on-line with the rest of the minutes.

The next day I minuted my final plenary of this term. It was mostly centred around Christmas celebrations, though we also had some notices from the Hull Student Forum (which we largely rejected as spam) and from the United Kingdom Youth Parliament. We also, naturally, recounted a summary of the preceding day’s corporation meeting. On unusual development was that Katherine presented me with an information pack from the House of Lords, containing six booklets and a mouse-pad. Apparently, it was sent following their reception of my report on Professor Norton’s visit. I am still unsure as to how I should respond to this, except with the realisation that the council has no policy on official gifts.

Since I shall be absent for the meeting next week (if, indeed, there is one at all) I shall have to temporarily appoint an under-secretary to whom to discharge my responsibilities. The show, after all, must go on, and someone must ensure it is properly transcribed.

Meeting Philip Norton FRSA

A modern library - a bald man stands before a crowd of adolescents.

Our visitor before his crowd.

So far in my time at Wilberforce College I have met two Labour MPs (Diana Johnson and Alan Johnson), one UKIP MEP (Mike Hookem) and an archbishop (Dr John Sentamu). Today the college welcomed Professor Philip Norton, who was both the first Lord Temporal and the first Conservative.

When told at a council meeting two weeks ago of his pending visit I imagined it would be a round-table discussion in the conference room similar to that with Mrs Johnson. Instead his lordship’s appearance bore more in common with that of Sentamu eight months prior, as a hoard of student delegations from various classes (I recall Sociology and Law being singled out) filled out the library to watch his presentation. Whereas for the archbishop’s visit I had been at the edge of the front row, on this occasion I was almost directly in front of our guest, and indeed may have caught some of his saliva at various points in the speech.

His lordship began by asking us all “What Is Politics?” and taking shows of hands from the audience on various contentious political issues. There were majorities in favour of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and EVEL. Prison suffrage was rather less popular. That done, Norton moved on to explain the role of Parliament in making laws and regulating Her Majesty’s Government. He told us of the work done by the House of Lords in reviewing legislation at great length and in fine detail which the Commons would not have had the capability to manage. He also talked of the value brought to the chamber by the ennoblement of certain surgeons and medical professionals (he brought up The Lord Winston as an example he hoped we would recognize*) and recounted the tale of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology debate in 2007, during which The Lord Brennan collapsed shortly after giving his speech. Norton said that this was the best time and place to do so, as there were numerous leading medical professionals (including the minister leading the debate, The Lord Darzi of Denham) able to rush to his aid.

Once the formal presentation had concluded, Professor Norton held a brief question and answer session. One of my ex-classmates from the history department asked if it was a source of frustration to know that a measure not to his liking was going to pass through parliament. The peer replied that it was a natural part of a parliamentary career, but it at least was not as bad as in the Commons where a member not of the majority party is practically powerless in terms of major legislation. I then asked if, in light of the recent High Court ruling, he believed there was a strong chance of his noble friends and colleagues ultimately blocking Britain’s exit from the European Union. He replied that although the house would certainly subject the decision to a heavy level of scrutiny and criticism, there was little chance of them blocking the move outright. The professor went so far as to suggest that the House of Commons might even resort to the use of the Parliament Acts to ensure that the result of the referendum was implemented.

A bald man in a suit with a poppy and lanyard smiles while crossing his arms.

The Right Honourable Philip Norton, Baron Norton of Louth, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

As the meeting drew to a close and students filed out of the library, I convinced his lordship to pose for a photograph, so that his Wikipedia page could have a profile picture – which it and many others currently lack due to the difficulty of finding public domain images. Now that I have obtained such an image, I can ensure that today’s meeting will have some significance in Norton’s public image.

*I had previously seen Professor Winston at GCSE Science Live in January 2013, but I hesitate to claim I met him given that the enormous lecture hall allowed a substantial chasm between his podium and my upper-gallery seat.

The Middle Age of Beverley

Whereas it might have been more in line to devote this post to discussion of the European Union referendum, here instead is an account of a college trip to some medieval hotspots in Beverley.

That we should have been on such an excursion at all was an oddity – the locations featured were entirely focused on Medieval History, yet the Modern History class were allowed to tag along. This being the penultimate day of the term – and there being no more history lessons in the remainder of the timetable – the educational focus of the outing was light. No worksheets were distributed nor notes taken, though teachers occasionally stopped to explain the historical significance of the local landmarks.

A large black cylinder with wooden boards over the outlines of windows.

The tower at Beverley Westwood.

The first such place was the Black Mill at Beverley Westwood. It one of two survivors of the five windmills which once stood in Beverley, and lost its sails in 1868. The Westwood is one of few remaining areas of common land in England, meaning that residents have maintained their traditional rights to use the turf for grazing cattle or collecting firewood – indeed there were several cows (and cowpats) there to greet us as we ambled across. In the modern era, visible to us on our visit, the territory is also used for a golf course and for Beverley Racecourse.

Beverley escaped the Harrying of the North because the Normans knew of the area’s religious past. John of Beverley – then the Bishop of York – was believed to have performed miracles. He also founded Beverley’s first building, a church dedicated to St John the Evangelist, though this was abandoned in the Viking invasion. The settlement became a large town and was granted borough status in the twelfth century with special interest in trading wool and leather. In the late fourteenth century it became the tenth-largest town in England, having continued to grow despite the effects of the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt and the Hundred Years’ War which stunted the development of other parts of the country.

Having ambled across the turf, exploring the dips and bumps in the ground, we were lectured on the habitation of the settlement in the middle ages. We also were dispatched around this area to uncover a large metal hook in the ground. This was used for the medieval sport of bull-baiting: A bull would be attached to the hook while dogs were sent to attack it. Spectators would bet on the time taken for the bull to die and the number of dogs slain in the process. There was also a practical purpose – the adrenaline rush in the last moments of life improved the taste of the beef.

Grass, a dark circle of earth and a metal hoop protruding from the ground..

The bull-bating hook.

The second stop on our visit was the deserted village of Wharram Percy. Occupied almost continuously from the ninth century to the fifteenth, the village was then abandoned. There are some six thousand or so settlements of this type in Britain but few of them are so large or so well preserved. The nearest car park is some 750m away, so getting to the site requires a lengthy trek down an overgrown rocky slope which some members of our group found taxing. The land, overseen in its day by the Percy family (Earls of Northumberland, and relatives of Lord Percy Percy in the first two series of Blackadder) contains the church of St Martin, the outlines of several houses and, naturally, some more cows.

Having picnicked in the shade behind the minibus, we headed for Rudston Church. There lies the body of Winifred Holtby, the novelist and journalist best known for 1936’s South Riding, which was adapted to a BBC miniseries in 2011 (parts of which were filmed near my house).

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The graveyard at Rudston Church

Our next stop was at Burton Agnes. Though the location is normally advertised for its grand Elizabethan stately home, we headed for the smaller Norman building to its side. The dark, uneven ground floor and tight helical stairway belie the vast dining room above, though the overall appearance was still somewhat spartan, with nothing but a long wooden table in an otherwise empty expanse.

IMG_0263

Burton Agnes Norman Hall (left).

Finally we ventured to Skipsea Brough. Surrounded by grassland and yet more cows, this small hamlet features the motte of Skipsea Castle, built by Drogo de la Beuvrière circa 1086 to secure the region and its trading routes against an invasion by Denmark. The castle itself was destroyed following the rebellion of William de Forz in 1221. All that remains now is the artificial hill. The land was reclaimed for farming in the eighteenth century and taken over by the Office of Works in the twentieth.

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The view from the Motte

It may perhaps appear strange that we closed out the academic term by wandering around the countryside, carefully evading deposits of Bovine faecal material while discussing medieval history, but in many ways it was a blessing that East Yorkshire had such rich locations to offer, and that we were able to visit them all with time left at the end of the day to visit the polling station. Though this day out may well be overshadowed in most people’s memories by the referendum, it will stand out as an example of what rural England has to offer as well as that which can survive the many tests of time. That last point may well prove more important than ever given what is about to come.

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A Date for the Calendar

Left: Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP (a white-haired man in a grey suit); Middle: Paul Brand (short blonde hair, black suit, pale yellow/green tie); Right: Mike Hookem MEP (spectacles, short brown hair, grey suit with blue shirt and yellow/black stripy tie).

Paul Brand of Independent Television introduces the pundits.

Britain’s relationship with the European Union has been highly controversial since before it even began. Forty-one years ago after the original referendum on whether to stay in the European Economic Community, the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” has been put to the people, to be answered on 23rd June. This has been the biggest talking point in British politics generally, and it has also been a recurring issue at Wilberforce College.

For a long time we knew relatively little about the debate. We knew that ITV Calendar would be covering it and that students were invited to ask questions, but we had no certain knowledge of the politicians in attendance. At various points we thought we might have David Davis, Karl Turner, Diana Johnson or Graham Stuart. Then we heard that we would have Alan Johnson and a UKIP MEP (we never knew which one). A few days before the debate we even heard that Johnson had “wobbled” and might pull out. The afternoon before the debate, as the atrium was evacuated and closed off to begin the conversion to a makeshift television studio, we still were none the wiser. On the morning of Friday 13th I was finally told that we had “Mike from UKIP” and subsequently I deduced that this was Mike Hookem, member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire & the Humber.

It was at 2pm that students were finally allowed into the atrium, and there we were introduced to Paul Brand, who was hosting the installment. We had all been provided with a pair of laminated cards: the first bore a black question mark, while the second was a choice between the Union Flag and the EU’s circle of stars. Several takes were expended before Brand managed not to say “Union Jack”. We were asked to hold up the image which represented our position before and after the debate. Eventually (around 3pm) we had our panellists arrive. The seating arrangement was unusual – we thought that Johnson and Hookem would be on the floor seating opposite the students on the steps, but instead they were positioned in our midst, with some other students filling up the additional seats. Nobody could quite understand this decision.

A crowd of adolescents on stepped seating. They hold up cards with Union Flags, EU Flags or Question Marks.

The students show their voting intentions.

The politicians began by making introductory speeches on the merits of staying or leaving. Johnson made the emotional appeal to the European project, saying that the Union had been a safeguard against war on the continent. He questioned the use of the Union flag for the Leave vote, saying that Brexit was not the patriotic British option. Hookem dismissed the romanticism of “Remainians” and warned the students about TTIP. We noticed that he was relying quite a lot on his iPad.

I was the first to ask a question, which was whether Brexit would revive Hull’s fishing industry. I seem to always end up on that topic when appearing on television. Other questions followed on immigration (naturally), terrorism, commerce and the obligatory quip that “You can’t go back to the British Empire.”. Throughout the debate it became clear that the two contestants were not evenly matched – Johnson had spent many years on the front line of politics including a period in the cabinet, whereas Hookem was a fairly obscure figure whose career in the European Parliament did not even stretch two years. He was rather obviously out of his depth during much of the debate and struggled to maintain a smooth flow of words when giving answers – whereas Johnson had spent decades polishing his speeches, Hookem often communicated in short, fragmented sentences.

The debate ended with a reprise of the flag display. By this point, Johnson had clearly proven the more effective debater as there had been a clear swing from Leave to Remain among the students in attendance. Six days later, the college launched its own referendum on-line, with the result that 63% of respondents preferred to remain. The result of the actual referendum (including for the Hull area) are likely to be much different.

Meeting Diana Johnson MP

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Diana Johnson, Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull North 2005-present.

As we move into the month of May 2016, we are nearly at the anniversary of the most recent general election. Four days from now, there will be a smorgasbord of other elections taking place: the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Police & Crime Commissioners, the Mayor of London and some 125 local councils. Additionally there will be two by-elections to the House of Commons – one in Ogmore, the other in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough. Not long afterwards, of course, there will also be a UK-wide referendum on our membership of the European Union.

While many of these elections are relatively low-key affairs (certainly, it will be on Holyrood that media attention is focused), there is to me a special significance to the Police & Crime Commissioners because they represent the first occasion on which I am eligible to vote. There are four candidates standing and, whereas the original elections back in 2012 were notable for the large number of independent candidates (who actually won 12 positions compared to Labour’s 13 and the Conservatives’ 16), in my Humberside area this time there are only four, and they represent what are now established as England’s four main parties: Matthew Grove (Conservative and Unionist), Denis Healy (Liberal Democrat), Keith Hunter (Labour) and Michael Whitehead (United Kingdom Independence). The system used is the supplementary vote, which means I will be voting for as many candidates as I am turning down.

On the last Friday of April, I took part in a meeting with the honourable lady the member for Kingston upon Hull North. The subject of discussion was the upcoming EU referendum. A point which came up notably in the session was eligibility for voting – our delegation contained two students from outside the United Kingdom (but inside the European Union) who were not entitled to vote in the referendum. Several others were also barred for failure to attain the age of eighteen years. There had been much clamouring for the voting age to be lowered to sixteen, as had been done for the Scotland referendum, but these were thrice rejected by the House of Commons. Our guest was quite openly displeased about this fact, and stressed that it was vital for those of us who could vote to do so, lest our generation’s voice be politically ignored – she noted that pensioners had done quite well out of recent budgets because they tend to have the highest voting turnouts.

The honourable lady was quite insistent upon her party’s unity with regards to this issue: she explained that whereas in the previous referendum (She repeatedly said 1974, and none of us thought it pertinent to say it was actually 1975.) the Conservatives had been uniformly in favour of membership of the European Community and Labour divided, in this present era the situation had been reversed and that it was now the Conservatives who were thus fractured. I might have detected more than a grain of salt in this sentiment given that her current leader (The Right Honourable Jeremy Bernard Corbyn MP) was adamantly Euroskeptic for most of his life, and has only very recently (and rather meekly) proclaimed his support for our continued membership. There are, too, a handful of Labour officeholders campaigning to leave (Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer, Kelvin Hopkins and Roger Godsiff). Perhaps her position in the Shadow Foreign Office compels our visitor to gloss over this issue in public.

Returning to the area of youth engagement in politics, Mrs Johnson talked about the popularity of the President of the United States (His Excellency Barack Hussein Obama) – “He’s just so cool!” – and lamented, in her view that neither his charisma nor that of the Prime Minister of Canada (The Right Honourable Justin Pierre Trudeau MP PC), could be matched by our own statesmen, explicitly giving unfavourable status to Boris Johnson MP and Nigel Farage MEP. The point she was keen to make was that most elections – especially the EU referendum – affected the young more than the old (as they would not live to see out its full effects).

One memorable moment came when the honourable lady went around the table asking each of us our intention with regards to future studies and careers. Several people mentioned biology (which struck the elders in the room as unusual) and several others law (which did not, especially given the explanation that the college did not offer politics & government or economics). I said my pursuit was chemistry, which caused Mrs Johnson to remark that I could be the next Margaret Thatcher – though she moved quickly to eliminate any inferred suggestion of thinking me a Conservative.

At this point, perhaps far too late into this post, explain what was actually discussed about the European Union – that being the topic around which the meeting was centered. Ironically it is this component of the visit of which I have the least clarity in recollection. The points which stick out the most are that the EU has guaranteed decades of peace between European countries unseen before its development, that international cooperation is increasingly necessary for dealing with global threats and that the uncertainty of Britain’s existence following a Brexit would be dangerous to the economy. She did, though, confess to an agreement with the statement that few in Britain truly love the EU.

It remains to be seen if the fear of uncertainty or the gratitude for peace will ultimately prevail as the leading motive for remaining in the European Union. Indeed, that the Remain campaign should be victorious with either strategy cannot yet be confirmed. Most polling for this referendum has shown the balance shifting daily, such that a decisive victory for either camp seems improbable if not impossible. Already, many are stirring rumours of a second plebiscite to follow should the first attempt fail to yield the result they desire. Certainly, the United Kingdom’s constitutional identity is likely to be the subject of great debate for a long time to come.