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Soli House of Commons

Solomon Curtis at the House of Commons November 2012 : BBC Parliament photo

Inspiring an aspiring generation

My first meeting with fellow HOT journalist, Solomon Curtis, was at a gathering of the HOT clan a few weeks ago, where I discovered that he was also a Member of Youth Parliament, writes Zelly Restorick. “What makes a young man want to enter into politics?” I thought, and spoke to him about an interview. Having recently spoken his first words at the House of Commons, it seemed an ideal time to ask him some questions.

Who is Solomon Curtis?
I’m a local resident of St Leonards, The Member of Youth Parliament [MYP] For Hastings, Bexhill and Upper Rother and an A level student studying at The Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells. I’m a music lover, and I organise and help with local music/arts events, as well as being a dedicated lover of St Leonards.

What made you want to become an MYP?
I believe strongly in the power of politics to change things and felt that young people were heavily under-represented nationally, so decided to stand in the hope that young people would agree that I could strongly represent them.

How is an MYP elected _ and by whom?
I had to be elected into the East Sussex Youth cabinet as the member for Upper Rother. Over 9,000 young people voted in East Sussex and 2 members (I and Toby Vinson) were elected. After these elections, the East Sussex Youth Cabinet’s 19 members can choose to stand for the UK Youth Parliament with an internal vote. The three Youth Parliament constituencies in East Sussex are Hastings, Bexhill and Upper Rother, Eastbourne and Coastal, along with Wealden and Lewes.

Both an MYP and a DMYP (Deputy) are elected for the Youth Parliament and after the first year, they change roles.  Therefore, I have announced officially that I will be standing down in February to take the position of Deputy.

What does an MYP do? Tell us about about the role.
My role is to support the East Sussex Youth Cabinet with our anti–bullying campaign and our transport campaign, making sure that through the Youth Parliament, they are able to reach for national support from ministers. There are many national roles a MYP and DMYP can hold, including running a region as a PG (Procedures Group) Member – or advising government policy, which I contributed to at the Department for Education and the Department for Transport recently.

What is a ‘typical day in the life of’ an MYP? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Oh Zelly, there’s never a typical day for Solomon Curtis, let alone with my responsibilities! My days often involve heavy levels of emailing, dealing with issues from constituents, meeting young people and speaking to them, along with working on our local campaigns in East Sussex, where we will hopefully be introducing a 3 in 1 card for young people in East Sussex, providing cheaper fares, proof of ID* and discounts to local stores by September. This will be the biggest change to transport affecting young people in a long time.
[ZR : Is this the introduction of ID cards… I know not everyone will be happy with this…. (Comment written post interview.)]

You recently spoke your first words in the House of Commons. What was the topic, when was it – and what happened?
Every year, the Youth Parliament holds an annual debate, where MYPs across the country meet in the House of Commons. With nearly 400 MYPs (excluding Deputies), it’s very competitive to try and speak in the few hours we have. However, after standing for two hours – which is the way you indicate to Mr Speaker you’d like to speak – I was finally selected to talk, being one of around five from the South East table.

I had hoped to speak on transport but was selected to speak on An Equal National Minimum Wage for All. I spoke of how Disraeli promoted the idea of One Nation and how we must support equality in all senses. Also, I spoke of how an equal minimum wage for all ages wouldn’t damage our economy or cause job losses, but cutting public services, squeezing families and giving £40,000 to the richest people in our country, would.

It was well received by other MYPs to my knowledge and I received praise from the House of Commons afterwards, so it was a great experience.

Solomon Curtis at the House of Commons

Solomon Curtis speaking at the House of Commons : BBC Parliament photo

What’s it like being behind the scenes in the Houses of Parliament?
Being in such a famous building with the right to use it as members is a great privilege. To sit in the Commons, where some of the most incredible people started their political careers, (ie Churchill, Gladstone, Disraeli, Hardie, Attlee etc…) is overwhelming – and you are taken in by the whole atmosphere. It’s very strict, where you cannot take in your own pen, but must use a House of Commons pencil* and you must follow protocol strictly, but the formality is a fantastic experience and to be able to say the words, “Thank you Mr. Speaker”, in the chamber is a dream come true.
[ZR : I’m intrigued by the governmental connection to pencils! When voting at elections, there’s a pencil in the booth for the voter to make their mark.  I wrote to the Electoral Commission to ask about this, as it seems so unusual – where else does one get offered a pencil to fill-out highly official paperwork? – and was told : “
Essentially there is nothing in legislation to say that marking a ballot paper in ink is not allowed, however, making your mark in pencil is intended so as not to be able to identify the voter, ie, in case anyone used something like a pen with coloured ink.”  (Comment written post-interview.)]

If you could change some things in our current system, what would you change?
I would change our political voting system from First Past the Post to AV. I would make the House of Lords fully appointed by experts with fewer politicians and not elected. I would abolish party politics from the Police and Crime Commissioner and I would make it compulsory for elections to have a qualified rate of at least 40%, like unions, or it will not be deemed democratic and re-voted.

What are the issues you currently care about the most?
I’m really worried about the rate of cuts to our public services, especially with over 40% of our employment in Hastings and St Leonards being public sector workers.

I’m incredibly scared about the direction our education system is going in. Governments have interfered too much without listening to people in the education system. The new GCSE reforms clearly divide young people at such an early age due to social class and brings back an old fashioned system that doesn’t work.

Has your experience of government so far, encouraged you to pursue a career in politics?
I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in politics and my experience has absolutely encouraged me. I feel, along with others, disheartened with politics and I want to restore trust in the system. Internal politics is in a very uncomfortable state at the moment and this idea of “who you know”, not “what you know” needs to change.

What are your goals – as an MYP?
To introduce a 3 in 1 card in East Sussex for 11–18 year olds. To continue advising the Department for Education on policies and to ensure that young people can see I am working hard on their behalf and feel that they can easily contact me.

How has life changed for you since becoming an MYP?
The Youth Parliament is non-party political and having this experience has really changed my view on politics. I work with all different political parties and there is a way for cohesive policies to come through.

I’ve really discovered that young people can make a difference. I believe any young person who wants to make changes is more than welcome to take over my role in December next year and stand for election in “The Big Vote 13” – and I hope to support the next MYP after myself in  2014-15.

Solomon Curtis caricature

Caricature of Solomon Curtis by Cathy Simpson

Do you think you have changed?
Haha, I’m going grey from stress!
I really feel having a neutral position in politics compared to a party political one has allowed me to see how politics could influence people’s lives really positively. I feel that I’ve become much more concerned about my constituents and young people in my area, rather than my personal goals.

Why are you here – on the planet – at this time?
Oh wow, that’s deep! I believe I’m here to change the lives of thousands of people allowing anyone from any background to be successful – and to inspire an aspiring generation. My ultimate goal is to become the Secretary of State For Education – and possibly beyond. That’s why I believe I’m here. It’s in some ways destiny for me to change the political system and help everyone in this country through politics.

Posted 09:10 Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012 In: Hastings People

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