This weekend I had an amazing time at Labour Students Political Weekend and it wasn’t just because of the glass of wine which from the photos looked permanently attached to my hand on Saturday evening. I had an amazing time because of the political affinity I felt with the people around me. I went to a Sixth Form where the very mention of supporting Labour made you a complete minority and in no way am I exaggerating; in the 2010 elections, our school had a mock election, out of the 6 houses -which hosts year 7 right up to sixth form- only one voted non-Conservative and it was the year 7’s (who somewhat ironically, voted Lib-Dem). In our very own 6th form house, I believe I am correct in thinking that even UKIP got more votes than Labour did. I am not surprised, East Anglia is a Tory heartland with only Norwich South currently having a real chance at being a Labour seat (hopefully things will change by 2015). Anyway, back to the weekend, my experience there will stay with me forever -except Saturday evening of course, of which I have my camera to thank for any memories.
The first thing I’d like to praise is the speech given by Simon (I wont name last names in case they aren’t happy for me to do so) about disability awareness. His speech really resonated and touched me and very nearly brought me to tears as the issues that sufferers of disability face are close to my heart. Like Simon, my younger brother suffers from a variety of conditions which impact on his day to day life and as Simon pointed out if you saw my brother -like many others-, you would not class him as having a disability. My brother has a number of learning difficulties including dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD, as well as this he is also on the autistic spectrum. My brother has felt different his whole life because of his conditions and to see Simon talking on stage so articulately and the huge round of applause he received at the end is something I could only hope for for my brother. I think awareness and education on the different types of disability is poor in our society and it must start in schools. The average person would think that having ADD means that you are a hyperactive and disruptive child, but actually the worst part of it is not being able to keep focused on topics for very long, yes there are different variations of the condition but actually my brother would not be the disruptive one in school at all and many children with learning disabilities are introverted and feel isolated. What Simon said about the need for having access breaks at university is one of the main reasons I believe my brother wont be as lucky as I and attend a university, there are so many demands on you when you are a student not just academically but socially too that I believe he would not actually be able to manage. I am not going to pretend that Labour got it completely right with disability policy. I believe that whilst there were big strides taken for those with mobility disabling issues, those with learning difficulties did not receive as many benefits and where there were benefits, only those with access to resources could properly access them. An example of which can be seen in the difference between private specialist education schools and State ones. The majority of State specialist institutions tend to put all children of varying needs into one school and in the classes, this is not helpful and children really cannot make the improvements in this system as well as they can in the private sector. I believe Labour and any current government should really be considering the impact of future education policy not only on those that achieve well but also on those that do not and why they do not. Each child learns differently and I believe that is key to future education policy.
Another fantastic talk was held by Finn who spoke of her experiences as someone from the LGBT movement and told us her ‘coming out’ story. Whilst I cannot empathise with her experience (as I am heterosexual), I can really sympathise with the agony and isolation she must have felt. Every person has a different experience and some are harder than others. It disgusts me that a teacher – someone trusted with the role of pastoral support- could be so flippant and unsupportive at such a fragile point in someone’s life and I am glad that Finn is the strong person that she is today as I wonder what I would be like in the same position. We also discussed the somewhat misjudged words of David Cameron when he said that he didn’t want the current Savile enquiry and the abuse in North Wales to be a ‘witch hunt of homosexuals’, which my homosexual friends and others found to be somewhat implying that all homosexual’s are paedophiles. It really shows how careful you have to be with words when in the public eye.
It was nice to sit in our BAME caucus away from prying eyes and discuss the difficulties that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people actually have in life. I personally have had very little overt racism in my life except the few problems of being so aesthetically different in such a predominantly white county and city I have only had one really bad experience. I was walking home at night and someone shouted ‘F*cking Black Bitch’ and threw eggs at me out of a speeding car, as well as being covered in fast drying egg on a cold evening, they had thrown them so hard that the hard cracked shells of the egg had given me scratches down my arms! I walked home in tears but mostly because I was shocked, at the age of 17 I just hadn’t ever really experienced something like that and I hope I never will again. However, acts such as that are -I believe- relatively rare and it is covert racism that really is the problem, stereotypes of minorities are often portrayed in the media – the ‘terrorist asian’, the ‘lazy african with too many children’, the ‘foreigners that cheat the benefit system’, to name but a few- and I believe it does begin to reflect on society and begin to plant stereotyped views in people’s head. I go to the LSE, probably one of the most international schools in the UK (the student statistics are something like 20% within the UK the rest are either EU or international students), yet stereotyped images of certain races still come about. In a political philosophy lecture, we were having a moral debate about whether cannabis should be legalised and one girls argument in defence of the current illegal status was that ‘if we wanted everyone to sit at home doing nothing and listening to reggae all day’ we should legalise it. Although I understand that cannabis culture is somewhat linked to the Rastafari movement, her comment seemed to me to infer that all people that smoked cannabis were lazy black people, which is not true. However, even then I don’t actually think she realised what she was saying was offensive and this is a problem within our society.
LSPW has really opened my eyes to the political world and its benefits and with the degree I am studying (a BSc in Social Policy with Government) I hope I can use it to make a change especially in regard to liberation issues as this weekend proved that we have so much further to go in the UK!