Belfast Telegraph

John Bercow’s advice to Queen’s students: engage in politics

John Bercow with Professor Alister Miskimmon at Queen’s University
John Bercow with Professor Alister Miskimmon at Queen’s University

By Staff Reporter

The Speaker of the House of Commons has called on Queen's students to play a more active role in politics.

Ahead of the Prime Minister stepping down and a Conservative leadership contest, John Bercow MP told a gathering at the university that public engagement is higher than ever.

During his Belfast lecture, Mr Bercow said that arguments over Brexit, the October 31 deadline for leaving the EU and the Northern Ireland backstop had renewed interest in parliamentary processes and the role of MPs.

He urged anyone interested in a career in politics to get the best education they can, pursue a career and join a political party or pressure group - before even considering standing for Parliament.

"Wherever you go, whether it be down the pub, at the dinner table, standing at the school gate or in conversation with colleagues by the water cooler, there is no doubt people are talking about Brexit, politics and Parliament," he said.

"My office has noticed a sharp increase in correspondence because people are suddenly more interested in Parliament as a result of the Brexit debates the closer we get to the deadline for leaving the EU.

"Whichever side of the argument you are on, this can only be a good thing that people are expressing their opinions and want to be part of the debate - and I urge you to join the conversation."

Since his election as Speaker back in 2009, Mr Bercow has sought to champion the rights of backbenchers to hold ministers to account on the issues of the day.

His attempts to modernise Parliament include the removal of a shooting gallery in the basement and the creation of a workplace nursery for the use of MPs and staff.

The Speaker is a passionate supporter of LGBT rights and has led efforts to make Parliament more diverse and representative of the nation, with the appointment of the first Sergeant at Arms, Commons chaplain and senior lawyer from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.

He was one of the founders of the Speaker's parliamentary placement scheme, giving young people a chance to shadow MPs.

But with almost 10 years in the top office, Mr Bercow said he is most proud of his outreach work, visiting hundreds of schools, universities and community groups across the UK, to broaden the appeal of Parliament.

"One of the best bits about this job, as an ambassador for Parliament, is talking to young people - our future MPs and lawmakers - about how it works and what we do," he added.

Queen's Professor Alister Miskimmon, Head of the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, said Mr Bercow presented a compelling case for the centrality of parliament in our democracy.

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