How I can whine about Public school MPs, but defend the classics

If you’re looking from a break from Will&Kate love then you will be pleased to know that was the last mention of them here. I may discuss the equally/more dull topics of revision, octopodes and local politics, but you will not be forced to endure any pink clipart or wedding themed mugs.

This Easter has found itself rather late and long in the school term, only adding to the pressure to get revision well underway. I can honestly say I’ve never been more motivated to do well in exams in my life. It’s not that I care much about getting impressive grades or A stars (In fact I resent the flawed A2 star system already, and it hasn’t even wronged me yet) but I care hugely about getting into university. I’ve nearly shed blood over it already. Three A’s, that’s what I need.

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some MUNderful news

I owe much to all those who took an interest in my last MUN post, “MUNdervalued”. It came at a time whenever the future of Model United Nations at Methody, certainly in terms of our conference, was looking shaky at best. Your comments, ‘likes’ and support (read: pressure) kept the heat on all of us to step up our efforts to persuade the school to host a conference. I’m delighted to not only tell you that we are indeed having a conference, from the 1st to the 3rd of July, but that I can also invite you all to it. We’ve created an ‘invitation booklet’ that we will be sending to several hundred schools in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. If you want to take a look, or perhaps forward it to your teacher, the booklet is in an online PDF at http://www.mcbmun.com/downloads/invitation.pdf

So now that we –hopefully- have the delegates, all we need are the chairs, admin, press, security, sound, tech and all the rest. Some of you may already have received my irritating and pleading texts, but unfortunately I don’t have everyone’s numbers and not all the texts sent. There will be announcements in assemblies and tutor groups for you to sign up, either with Ms Kallock in A4 (some sort of computer room/pastoral care hybrid) or with myself by e-mailing info@mcbmun.com You can always just tell me personally and I’ll be more than happy to take down your name :­D

I would include some photos of our trip to Lady Eleanor Holles conference, but the staff haven’t yet e-mailed their photos to us. (Talk about being surrounded by ineptitude! ;-­) ) Sorry for such a short post, but I might post something about AV in the future.

what we should love about balls

I’m totally elated that Ed Balls became Shadow Chancellor this week. Not only did he convince me of his economic alternative (the best critique of coalition economic policy out there), but he convinced me to put asides my grievances against the labour party’s past stances on civil liberties and the war ‘in’ Iraq. Gordon Browns belief in “Post Neo-classical Endogenous Growth Theory” (the sort of phrase I might repeat to myself to help pass the time waiting for a train) is well known to have been influenced heavily by Ed Balls. He’s an intellectual heavy weight and it shows. So far he is the only shadow minister I have seen who has clearly and succinctly rebutted the conservatives “we must cut x, y and z thanks to the mess of the other party” mantra. More importantly, he seems to be the only person who has remembered what the original intention of City Academies were. For a policy that set out intending to provide more resources and create ethos in large, formerly failing, inner city schools, it is strange that there should be a requirement for a school to already be ‘outstanding’ in ofsted reports to be considered for academy status now. Basically, it sounds rather as though the Academy scheme now provides extra resources to the best schools, whilst building projects for the worst schools are being cancelled. But I digress.
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IBD, Attila the Nun and Terrorism

Northern Ireland Crohns and Colitis group

Some time ago the Sixth form forum at Methody voted to make Crohns and Colitis UK (Formerly, National Association for Crohns and Colitis NACC) our main charity of the year. After some initial confusion with contacts I finally managed to get two speakers from the local Northern Ireland group in to speak to the sixth form.

Pictured second from the right in the front row is Peri Gillespie and first on the right of the front row is Audry Derby. They are Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson respectively and they were both kind enough to come to speak to our assembly group. Crohns and Colitis, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a condition that affects thousands of people in the UK and Northern Ireland, but it was a cause that few people in the forum had heard about and even fewer in the year group. This was probably something that contributed to the choice of Crohns and Colitis as the group to be supported, the forum felt it would not only raise a large amount of money for a very worthwhile cause but also raise awareness within the year group about the condition. We certainly seem to have made progress on the latter as I have heard quite a few people discussing it since the assembly and I have also spoken to a few pupils who have the condition. Everyone, including myself, was very impressed with what Peri and Audry had to say and in turn they were delighted to hear that their talk was so effective.

Not only has progress be made on raising awareness, but from what I’ve heard £1,300 has already been raised from the Halloween Fling. Over the next few weeks we’ll be putting up more information on Crohns and Colitis around the Worrall Centre and we’ll also be holding Methody’s Got Talent.

That Wednesday afternoon I had a debate, along with Charlotte, against Royal School Dungannon. Charlotte and myself were proposing the motion that “This house believes the Big Society is a sham.” Charlotte had just finished a french debate, which she also won, but it had left her mind in a quite mixed lingual state. However she didn’t let it get in the way and managed to perform the difficult feat of avoiding switching language during debate! On the bright side, this motion did not require any devils advocacy from me! Unfortunately as per normal there was only an audience of 3 students to see our victory and they were all from Dungannon, but I can recycle a few parts of my debate here anyway. Dungannon were excellent opponents, this is the first year their school has taken part in a debating competition and they were clearly a cosy and friendly team. They made some excellent points for what I will now say in retrospect, I would consider the harder case to argue. Annie from the opposition was kind enough to e-mail me some photographs she had taken, real live action stills of Charlotte and myself taking our various rants against David Cameron.

“Mr Chairperson, my fellow speakers and members of the house. We’re here to answer one of the great unanswered questions. The question that most of the media are too embarrassed to ask and the question our prime minister is too scared to answer. It’s our very own 2010 ‘Emperors New Clothes’ question. What the dickens is The Big Society? The problem is that just like the emperor’s new clothes, the closer we look at the big society, the less there is to see!

Many governments will follow an ideology. Charlotte and I will demonstrate the ‘Big Society’ lacks the ambition and the coherency of any ideology such as socialism, capitalism or communism. Other pragmatic governments will have a plan for governance, for example thatcher’s privitisation or the coalition’s deficit reduction plan, however even Cabinet Minister Francis Maude admits that the big society is “not a plan.” Even without ideology or a plan, most governments at least formulate clear policies such as the national minimum wage or freedom of information. By tackling the flawed strands and methods of the Big Society, Charlotte and I will prove that The Big Society is neither an ideology, plan nor policy, but it is instead a sham.

The Big Society has been met with universal derision, and that’s just from the Tories! One Tory MP described it as “complete crap.” David Davis defines the Big Society thus, “the corollary of the Big Society is the smaller state. If you talk about the small state, people think that you are Attila the Hun. If you talk about the big society they think that you are Mother Theresa.” Nevermind a wolf in sheeps clothing, the big society is Attila the Hun in a nun’s Habit. Let’s ask Cameron what his idea really is, “You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility…” How vague can it get? Perhaps Martin Luther could call it the reformation, In fact I rather suspect had Tony Blair been there he would have been told to call it the ‘Third Way’ that we’ve all now forgotten about. The point is, David Cameron’s description of the big society is like the descriptions of homeopathic treatments. They claim to cure at least 40 different unrelated conditions but do nothing for any of them and just like these treatments, just like emperors new clothes, the Big Society is a sham.”

I went on to make various points about David Cameron’s different strands. First of all, the call for “social action” in the form of volunteering and charities.

“This call for social action is unrealistic, it conceals real cuts and it is not the best way to deliver services. It’s unrealistic because the public sector makes up only 2.3% of the British workforce, they couldn’t possibly replace our police, education, and health workers nevermind the welfare state! As for increasing the number of people who volunteer, Britain already has the highest amount of volunteering in Europe – according to Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, “so much for broken Britain.”  To expect people to do unpaid labour in good economic times was unfair, but to expect them to do it in hard economic times such as these was just cruel.”

In last Friday’s Have I Got News For You Paul Merton made an amusing joke about this. It went along the lines that the government was introducing voluntary gardening for the local council as a requirement for those who had been on benefits without work for more than six weeks or so. He pointed out the councils could then make their gardeners redundant as the job could be done for free. These redundant gardeners could then go on benefits, then after six weeks they’ll be forced to go and garden voluntarily.

“The call for social action conceals real cuts. During the Labour government the voluntary sector more than doubled in size. However about 70% of this growth was state funded. If David Cameron is going to cut the state, then he is going to cut charities. He will effectively be cutting on the the strands of his big society. For example, We have seen £11mil centralised cuts from the Office for Civil Society, however we have also seen local councils cutting these services such as Croydon council cutting their contracts with charities by 66% and Greenwich by 50%. The advantage to them is that instead of making their own workforce redundant and facing redundancy costs, they can instead push this burden onto charities. The New Philanthropy Capital thinktank estimate that Big Society will result in cuts between £3.2bn and £5.1bn and they say this is “too big a gap for trusts and foundations or funding from the public and philanthropists to fill.”

This is not the best way to deliver services. For a start, it abandons the idea of collective action and sharing responsibility on a state level. For decades we have had a tried and tested response to quality of life issues. Education, Health and public safety are all funded through tax and spend policy. None of these is perfect, but it has led to a sustained increase in quality of life. How much bigger can society get than an understanding of distribution of wealth through public service provision? We only need to listen to Cameron reminisce about his mother flower arranging for the local church to realise that he is not looking forward to a bright new future, but looking back upon the victorian era of the past through a rosy tinted monacle. But let’s just look at the nature of public services in the victorian era – they were a threadbare minimum, frankly Britain can do better than that.”

Charlotte then made some great points about the community empowerment strand. The most obvious being that attempting to legislate to create community makes no sense. She also looked at how Health, Education and Police services are simply better run by professionals. This was a point I had raised with the opposition speaker in a point of information, the logic of the big society seems to be that if people want to complain about public services then they should run them themselves. This is essentially the most blatant attempt at political buckpassing of our generation, when people complain about badly run public services it us up to those providing them and the government to improve upon them and give the public a better deal, it is NOT up to the public. Besides by paying taxes the public already contribute their fair share.

“Cameron more or less admits that this is a strand of little consequence. He resorts to using meaningless phrases such as “creating communities with oomph” – just the sort of repetitive guff that he’ has bulked the rest of his speeches out with”

I’ll try and write more briefly about the rest of our points, in fact I’ll do them in bullet points just minus the bullets. The low take up of ‘free schools’ by parents shows a lack of interest in empowering communities. The types of people who will be empowered are those with lots of spare time, namely the Greying Leisured Affluent Middle classes (GLAMs) Whereas those unable to take advantage of this empowerment will be single parents, those working longer hours or those on lower incomes. If services are to be provided and managed by GLAMs isn’t it likely they will end up with a bias towards them? The rest of the public will sit back and think, “Run Society? the school run is hard enough!” People can already become involved in many ways, becoming a local councillor, setting up local interest groups, volunteering for a school board of governors.

Our final strand for discussion, which I will also just write about in ‘bulletless bullet point’ style, was the Public Service reform strand. Our main point here is that David Cameron and the government do not really believe in what the big society has to say about this. They pledged not to reform the NHS in the election and they increased university fees without bothering to reform universities, doesn’t look like a ‘big society’ commitment to reform. Where they have reformed, such as the housing benefit system, it has been branded a failure at best and ‘social cleansing kosovo style’ by Boris Johnson. The Conservatives have further undermined the big society plan by hiring Phillip Green of Topshop to advise them on efficiency. Whilst the message of Big Society is to decentralise, the message of Topshop is to centralise and take advantage of the economies of scale. This finally leads us to the false decentralisation of this strand. First of all, it’s a top-down solution, which seems to contradict the message of big society. If David Cameron was really committed to decentralisation he would decentralise a real power, the power to tax.

I was flattered and privileged this week to be asked to help interview Dr Breen from QUB on the topic of terrorism, it was a really fascinating interview and I was especially pleased to have been asked because I had enjoyed listening to the previous weeks’ episode. The episode I was involved with is not yet online but you can listen to the previous episodes at http://soundcloud.com/begging-the-question Unfortunately Terrorism and the ethics of war isn’t actually a topic I have done much reading into, as at the moment I seem to be more involved with more basic UK level politics and particularly economic issues. But it’s definitely an area I will have increasing interest in over the next while.

My final word on all matters debate and politics is just to share this cartoon from the Guardian with you, thanks to Daniel Williams for finding this one.

image

And finally finally a song recommendation. “Here comes the flood” by The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon). At the moment I’m listening to a lot of his music, but here’s just one track. I always laugh at the line, “if the the good lord had intended me to live in LA he would have given me a machine gun.” http://tinysong.com/evaL

But well, here I am just another individual.

Do cuts bring out the worst of us?

Along with the other 10,500 members of “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned From Albus Dumbledore” I often ponder, What Would Dumbledore Do? One of my favourite quotations was from when he was discussing Hermione’s ELF (Elf Liberation Front), “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats [those considered] his inferiors, not his equals.” So if we were to wear a WWDD wrist band, what would Dumbledore do about cuts, taxation and spending?

I saw a silly vox-pop discussion about it on the news a few days ago. In fairness, I’m not going to expect the public to give answers that I like whenever they are being asked what I think is the wrong question. Nick Robinson and most of the media seem to have jumped on the bandwagon that cuts and dramatic cuts are an unavoidable reality. This simply isn’t the case. From the start of the recession the message from most leaders was that we could not cut our way out of the recession, we had to grow out of it. Increasing public sector spending increases private sector growth, and cutting public spending reduces private sector growth. The conservatives big idea is that by shrinking one slice of the pie, the other slice gets bigger. This might work in the pie charts cooked up by Osborne’s Office of Budgetary Responsiblity and consumed by the media. But anyone with any experience in baking a real pie knows that putting less ingredients in will never lead to a bigger pie.

Putting aside that debate, which was all too quickly degrading into over use of a pie analogy, here’s the clip itself. Pay close attention in particular to what happens at 2:56. (you can skip to 2:20) for the start of her interview. Look at the list of things he suggests cutting, she says no to health, no to education, defence. Then he says welfare, her eyes light up, she smiles a little. She’s said no to everything that she receives or sees the benefit to, as soon as he says welfare she’s momentarily delighted, “finally, I have nothing to lose” is the thought behind her eyes. She’s not alone, mention the idea of the burden of tax cuts falling on welfare claimants and you can expect dollar signs to appear in people’s eyes Looney Tunes style. I really do think these questions bring out the worst in us.

Nick Robinson on Cuts

This sort of reaction is exactly why we hear non stop about benefit thieves and over zealous claimants. Yet we hear nothing of tax evaders. The reason is disgustingly simple. The type of people we perceive as benefit thieves are working class and less educated. Whereas tax evaders are wealthy, classy and ‘sophisticated’ (though that is clearly a misuse of the word) There are posters up at train stations saying “Report benefit thieves” with a crime phone number, yet government press offices still consider tax evasion enough of a white collar activity that they avoid branding it in a similarly dirty light. This is a case where it isn’t the cost or nature of the crime that matters, it’s the wealth and nature of the person committing it.

This pursuit of the wrong people isn’t just degrading and embarrassing, but it’s also wildly uneconomical. Staff in the benefits office following up on false claims cost more in terms of salaries than they on average manage to reclaim. The cost of taking such crimes to court or following any legal action is much greater than the amount being fraudulently claimed anyway. On the other hand, the average senior tax inspector brings in £1.5m, on earnings of just £50,000. Tax inspectors earn 10 times more from wealthy tax evasion than from Work and Pensions fraud. Yet the Coalition is cutting it’s only profitable department by 25%!

According to Thisismoney.co.uk,

  • 3% of tax payers are evading tax, 0.8% of welfare recipients commit benefit fraud.
  • £5.2bn are overclaimed in benefits each year, however people also do not claim a further £16bn they are entitled to.
  • The tax evaded by only three large companies would have been enough to pay for all £5.2bn.
  • Tax evasion costs us 15 times more than benefit fraud.

What Would Dumbledore Do?

He probably wouldn’t care, after all there is only two departments escaping the Chancellors axe, the Ministry of Magic and Health.

*And it has just been pointed out to me how ridiculous the claim that, “3% of tax payers are evading tax” sounds.
I thought I should explain that few tax evaders pay no tax at all, they just pay less than they should. Apart from Non-doms*

tough on grime

I began the depressing task of writing my personal statement today. Either I try to write it ‘personally’ and end up in a state of intense self hating (who the hell is this twat I keep writing about?) or I try to make the process less painful by distancing myself, in which case it ceases to be a personal statement and becomes a long and dull thesaurus entry. Yes, more dull than the normal thesaurus entry would be.

In one attempt to spice it up I tried to write in some snippets of rhetoric.  When read in the right tone of voice, it is surprisingly effective. To the extent that my first paragraph had so much demagoguery and rhetoric in it that after my mum read it I could barely restrain my self from shouting ‘Seig Heil!’ Perhaps I should rewrite my application to be aimed at a Natural Sciences course ‘specialising in social darwinism’.

It did get me thinking though about how we should be reusing some of the great speeches. If not in our personal statements, then elsewhere. Having read about Tony Blair’s £20mil brand, I couldn’t help thinking a little retrospective commercialisation could top up that small fortune. Sponsership with fairyliquid for the motto, “tough on grime, tough on the causes of grime”

Anyone who has listened to Belfast City Beat Radio station will be very glad that Chamberlain announced the outbreak of war on the advert free BBC. A local radio equivalent would have run something like this:

“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11.00 a.m. that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.

It’s nearly 11 o’clock, maybe it’s time to PHONE A CAB! North South East or West, 90 33 33 33″

Not that Churchill’s fantastic war time speeches would fare this commercialisation much better if his namesake insurance company had anything to do with it.

we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender ,

*All policies exclude Northern Ireland

Funnily enough the comparatively small number of soldiers recruited in Northern Ireland and the lack of conscription, as well as the fact Northern Ireland had recently been offered to the Republic in exchange for a declaration of war against Germany, might indicate that this disclaimer may not have been far from the truth!

Day 2 London

Camilla’s school was on its last day of term so Camilla had written cards and bought wine for her teachers. I enjoyed meeting some of the girls, who clearly thought I was Camillas boyfriend, as well as having a sneak around the school for photos. Apparently not sneaky enough as Lucy’s mum told me on Friday that when she’d said they were looking after Edward the headmistress said, ‘oh yes the tall chap’ We imagined they  had probably been wondering was I Lucy or Camilla’s boyfriend.

The school was certainly nice. Not grand in an impractically large wooden door and red brick public school way, but just full of nice touches that can only happen with that little extra bit of money. The most obvious thing I noticed when I walked in was the fact that the entire school was carpeted. Not only classrooms, but the corridors too! Camilla and Lucy clearly didn’t think this odd at all, but I shudder to think what would happen to any carpets in the corridors of Methody, or any other school I’ve been in really. The other thing I noticed was how narrow the corridors were, just over one person wide. Explained of course by the complete lack of traffic. The classrooms were small, they seated about 12 in the smallest I saw and 15 in the biggest. I was however in the sixth form corridor, junior classes must have been larger, though I didn’t see many large classrooms anywhere elsewhere that I looked. There was some genuinely beautiful outdoors bits, including a lacrosse pitch. It seems that far from the vast, modern glass faced beasts I imagined independent schools to be, the school was more like a collection of houses converted for school use, cosy and intimate would be a better description. Where the school did have new facilities though, the extra finance was more obvious to see. Not so much that they had facilities unaffordable to a state school, but just facilities that no-one would think of placing in a state school. The ballet studio being the most obvious example.

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Anyway, now that I’d finished skulking around the school and Camilla had finished delivering the booze to staff members, we headed into London. My first museum of the summer was to be the British Museum. I barely noticed the hundreds of millennia old busts I was so busy staring at the so moderne roof. Having spotted a seagull seated on top of a pane of glass, I exclaimed to Camilla,

“That’s so impressive that seagulls can just sit on a pane of glass so high up and not be unnerved by there being no ground under their feet!”
“Well, they’re probably used to it, since they’re birds…”

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I had just about enough classical greek left to translate (ok, who’s kidding, transliterate) a few bits of the Greek. Having a little knowledge of some of the myths helped too (ruining Camilla’s Disneyified versions of Hercules and the Little Mermaid forever). Thankfully a FB friend of mine, Yannis, could fill me in on the details afterwards.

“About Hercules (Ἡρακλῆς): It was Hera who drove him mad, because he was the son of Zeus with another woman – and that was not the first time Zeus cheated. Hera had also tried to kill him as a baby, with two snakes, which Hercules throttled easily.
During his madness he killed his wife, Megara, daughter of the king of Thebes, along with his children. His later “labours” were his redemption for this slaughter, when he recovered his sanity.
About the 192 soldiers: You are referring to the 192 Athenians who died at the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), fighting against the Persians. They were buried in a tomb (τύμβος), covered my sand, resulting in an artificial hill. The total number of the Athenians was about 10,000, and number of Persian forces must have been more than 30,000. The casualties of Persians exceeded the 6,000. The Olympic Marathon is also related to this battle.”

After having ‘much lols’ at the naked men on some pots we left the British Museum and headed back to Stanmore by tube. Camilla had a school concert that night so I was going there and also meeting up with Lucy there. Going to Methody clearly gives people a very high standard for school music, but even so the concert was very good. Despite being an all girls school, they seem to have focused on brass. Their band played The Great Escape as well as Disney’s Lion King (which Lucy and I could sing all the words to of course!) and their lady choir sang Lift Up Thine Eyes, which I again sang all the words to, though not quite so well. The three of us returned to Lucy’s house where we had a good catchup, including some rather hilarious stories of an ‘IB Girls’ holiday in Spain. It was the third night I’d slept on a real mattress instead of an air bed, but waow it takes some time for the novelty to wear off.

Day 1 London

<Ding> “your Ryanair crew will be passing through the cabin with scratchcards momentarily.” Maybe it was the 5.30am wake up, or the lack of breakfast, or maybe I genuinely was flying to london in a very small supermarket. It was a supermarket atmosphere on the flight, a constant stream of adverts meant then when I closed my eyes in a futile attempt to sleep I was half expecting to hear the beeps of the tills. My tummy rumbled loudly due to its lack of breakfast, either that or Ryanair have very effective subliminal messaging techniques. But I couldn’t complain about flying at all. For one thing I don’t get travel sick on planes. Somehow my mind finds being hundreds of feet up in the air at over a hundred miles per hour far less nauseating than driving down the M1. And second of all, the flights were £20, including all taxes. Amazing, I can get to London for only slightly more than it costs me to get to school! Unfortunately once i got off the plane the frugality could continue no more, I did avoid a £50 train and got a £14 return bus fare instead. It was just after 8am so I realised I wasn’t in too much of a rush to get into London anyway.

I met Camilla at Liverpool street, where I wandered around for about 10 minutes looking for a bin until she pointed out that there were none since 7/7. We went to covent gardens for breakfast. Being early on a monday morning it was very quiet, but a string quintet had still turned up to perform which was nice, and they were great as expected.

Covent Gardens
Performers at Covent Gardens at an unearthly hour of the morning

After walking around Covent Garden we took a walk down Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus and Bond Street. Time was made, of course, for a visit to that spectacle they call Abercrombie and Fitch. Camilla and I donned our gas masks, lit our torches and ventured inside. We posed at the door with the semi-nekkid model, he was clearly a mild homophobe because he clearly was not comfortable, but Camilla suggests now that it may have been because I was wearing Hollister, a brand that must bring bile into the mouths of these Aberfitchies.

It was coming close to lunch so we headed to Hyde Park, parched with all this hot weather, for our lunch. This was the day after IB results, so there was much drama surrounding who had got their points and who hadn’t. I feel I may have just gotten a taster of what I’ll be dealing with in August in a years time and I had the rather unpleasant sensation of suddenly recalling those AS level results in August that I had so successfully put to the back of my mind. Camilla, being a genius, had got 44/45 (and the lost point, in French, was widely considered a travesty by all) and so easily made her offer for History at Oxford, Lincoln college. Camilla also had to buy a dress for a leavers ball, so after taking a walk around Hyde Park we went to Selfridges. While I was waiting on Camilla in the fitting rooms one of the shop assistants asked me ‘Are you waiting for something to try on?’
‘Uhhh, sorry?’ I was pretty confused, had she actually just called me a transvestite? I’d thought that my clothing of Jeans and a long sleeved shirt made my lack of transvestite enthusiasm quite clear, but apparently not.
‘Oh right you’re waiting on someone! We get lots of men in here who do [try on women’s clothing]’ I also got to enjoy a bored little 5 year old boy natter away to what looked like a very upper class older woman, her heavy makeup barely concealing how much contact with the child made her squirm!
Exhausted, having been awake early and carried around a heavy rucksack all day, we headed back to Camillas on the tube. Just outside the doors of Selfridges we met Safiya, one of the Bahrainians from GYLC. Such a coincidence, as Camilla and I had been talking about how to get in touch with them. We exchanged numbers with her and headed on home. I got to meet Camillas lovely mum and nanny Elaine. Elaine was Irish, proper Irish, rather than the half-baked northern variety that she considered me to be! As well as getting a comfortable and real bed (I had been sleeping on an inflatable for three weeks) I was ridiculously well fed, both in quality and quantity. Camilla’s mum had decided that since “we have a man in the house” I would be catered as though I was a rugby player! Growing boys, growing boys, growing at the waist I suspect.

Global Young Leaders Conference

Sunday 12th July
I left Belfast on a mid morning flight to New York, my connecting flight to Washington was delayed by 4 hours so I arrived at the Global Young Leader’s Conference after all the introductions had been made. There were 350 scholars from all over the world at the conference, the simulations involved everyone but we were also divided into smaller working groups. I arrived at 2am Belfast time, which was 9pm Washington time and introduced myself to my Leadership Group, of course they all remembered me but it took me a while to get to know their names. I joined in the ‘ice-breaker’ games they were playing and got to know Lucy when we won a game of ‘pirate ship’ by being far too strategic and competitive for our own good!
Monday 13th July

We had our first serious Leadership Group Meeting. The Leadership Groups were groups of about 25 scholars. Most of our time was spent in discussions and debates with our group. Each group was assigned a country to represent in the various simulations throughout the conference. Our country group was Saudi Arabia, so I had done some research on the country before leaving. The meeting in the morning was to discuss the speaker we would hear, Dr Gary Weaver, a professor in American University. Our FA (faculty advisor / teacher) Ms. Nora gave us the analogy of the iceberg to explain cultural differences. In our group we marked some things such as architecture or dress as on the top of the iceberg as we can see these cultural effects. We placed things such as beliefs and tradition under the iceberg as these are parts of culture that cannot always be seen. Dr Gary Weaver outlined in his speech that whilst globalisation might make different cultures, such as those from the Eastern and Western world, seem identical above the surface this is not the case in beliefs below the surface.

We had lunch in Washington’s famous Union Station. After this we visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson memorials. Upon returning to the Sheraton National Hotel we heard from Ms Molly Blank who had made a documentary film about racial attacks in South Africa. It reminded me of news back in Northern Ireland just before I’d left about the Romanians who had left their homes due to racist attacks and intimidation. The attacks that had been occurring in South Africa were far more serious but similar in nature and with similar causes. The documentary film focused especially on why so many normally moderate people either joined in the attacks or did nothing to help the victims. Tutsi in our group was in Johannesburg at the time of the attacks and so was able to share her first hand experience with us later on when we were being debriefed in our leadership group meeting.

Tuesday 14th July

Ms Angelica Silvero was the first speaker of the day when we visited to World Bank Headquarters. Her speech detailed the World Bank’s transition from simply functioning as a bank to actively working for humanitarian improvement. She gave examples of many projects from around the world that had been supported by the World Bank and different nations’ roles as lenders and borrowers and she answered many tough questions from the scholars on cases of corruption. She pointed out that many of the countries where money is lost to corruption are the countries than need it the most, so simply refusing to give anything to these countries was not a solution to the issue as it would inevitably affect those in poverty more than the wealthy.

We had lunch in Georgetown and it was interesting to see around the American University. I also heard from a member of the Carnegie think-tank who visited Guantanamo Bay to investigate the effectiveness of US interrogation techniques especially in comparison to the Saudi Arabian system, which he had also visited. Finally that evening we took part in a World Trade Organisation simulation in which we had to resolve a dispute between the EU’s Airbus and the US’s Boeing, both of which had received unfair grants from their respective governments.

Wednesday 15th July

The day started with a visit to the US Department of State where the speaker outlined the Department’s commitment to securing peace and stability in the world through long-term development rather than short-term military action. However, he found it difficult to justify the large discrepancy between the budget for US aid and foreign development schemes and the far larger military budget.

In the afternoon we visited the Israeli Embassy, which prompted a healthy debate on the Middle East situation. It was particularily interesting to hear the views of people from Arabic countries and I expect that for many of them it was their first time hearing what Lucy had to say, as many of the scholars from Muslim backgrounds had never met someone of Jewish ancestry before. Our group also gained from Lucy’s personal connection to the Holocaust Museum which we visited the next day. I found many parallels between problems that exist in the Middle East and problems that have existed in Northern Ireland and I saw many cases were Northern Ireland was used as an example of how to resolve such conflict.

Thursday 16th July

In the morning we visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum which really brought home many of the concepts of human rights that we had been discussing previously in our Leadership Group Meetings. We were able to explore Washington D.C and visit some of the Smithsonian Museums. That evening we prepared for the United Nations Security Council simulation.

Friday 17th July

We heard from the Humanitarian Issues Panel which was made up of guest speakers Ms Anderson from Mercy Corps, Ms Hill from Catholic Charities SUA and Mr Doyle a reporter for the McClatchy Newspapers. Mr Doyle was an especially interesting speaker as he often questioned the other speakers. Questions from the scholars ranged from whether vegetarianism was a moral imperative given food shortages to the impact of the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception. We continued to prepare for the UN Security Council simulation throughout our Leadership Group Meetings that day.

The 17th of July was also my 17th birthday so at dinner Lucy and Camilla had organised a birthday party for me. They’d made a card for me of shared GYLC memories and wearing some makeshift party hats, they along with the other 350 scholars down for dinner sang happy birthday. Afterwards we went up to the rooftop of the Sheraton Hotel, which had a view over all of Washington D.C for an impromtu birthday party.

This was our last night in Washington D.C so we continued the party atmosphere back in our Leadership Group Meetings where we had a Cultural Exchange. I found out more about the different cultures represented in our group and I was also able to share a bit about Northern Ireland. Many of the other scholars were very amused when I showed them a photograph of Belfast’s skyline and named the Harland and Wolf cranes, they couldn’t understand how cranes, no matter how big, could be considered landmarks or have ‘names’. I explained to them about the heritage of ship building, including the Titanic. Some scholars also misunderstood the nature of the Giants Causeway, asking “how did they do that?” When I explained about the sudden cooling of volcanic magma when it hit the sea they still asked “Yes, but how did they get it to flow into the sea?” because they were still under the impression that it was man-made. In my cultural exchange I was also able to show them an unusually lightweight, blue ‘rock’ which was formed when a blue ulsterbus seat melted into the tarmac of the road. I found this rock when I was much younger a few days after the bus had been burned out one 11th night. I was also able to show them the Good Friday agreement and give a brief explanation of the troubles and what effect the agreement had.

Even though the other scholars’ knowledge of Northern Ireland would seem poor to us, it actually greatly impressed me as they had all heard of Northern Ireland whereas often I would be approached by people whose countries were much larger but I’d barely heard of. For example a representative from Belize was surprised that I didn’t know more about their country given that they’d been a part of the British Empire and still to this day export their entire banana crop (their main industry and largest employer) to Ireland through Fyffes which largely ‘owns’ their country. In fact, something I shared in common with the rest of the UK representatives was surprise at exactly how far the UKs news and influence extended across the world.

I noticed how despite everyone having many similarities, particularily as most of the scholars had received western style educations and had educated liberal families, even people from places such as Texas could have very different lifestyles from people here in Northern Ireland. Everyone in the group made it clear they’d love to welcome guests to their homes if other scholars wished to visit their country.

Saturday 18th July

Most of this day was spent travelling. We had a bus ride up to Philedelphia where we stopped to get lunch. Then we continued our journey to New York city. Upon arrival my luggage didn’t come out of the bus, though I was certain I had loaded it. Later on that night it turned up, in the girls dorms, thanks to the pink ribbon my mum had tied onto it! Manhattan College was a beautiful campus and we particularly enjoyed being able to congregate in the ‘quadrangle’ of grass in the courtyard.

Sunday 19th July

In the morning I went on my site visit to Ellis Island. I enjoyed the boat journey past Liberty Island to Ellis Island and it was interesting to see the buildings that some of my ancestors probably passed through. When I did a search for my family name on the records more results came up than I could look through. Back on Manhattan we ate lunch in Times Square, which has now been pedestrianised. It amused me that many Americans seemed to think it was a radically new idea, despite it being common in the centres of most European towns and cities. We then went to see Mary Poppins on Broadway, the first time I had ever been to a musical.

Upon returning to Manhattan College we had our first Commission Meeting. In these Commission Meetings we prepared resolutions to various issues for our United Nations Global Summit happening at the end of the week. I was repesenting Saudi Arabia on the Political Committee and argued for a resolution which would give Saudi Arabia permanent Security Council membership, on the basis that despite being the world’s 2nd largest and fastest growing religion Islam was not represented on the Security Council and that Saudi Arabia’s oil made it an important world power.

Monday 20th July

We had to report back to our Leadership Group and Country Group on what had happened in our Commissions so that we could maintain an overview of the summit as a whole. We then had a speaker from the financial world, Mr DeNaut from Deutsche Bank. He emphasised the impact of globalisation in terms of the current global recession and hinted that perhaps in the future Europe would be favoured as a more stable financial entity because of the origins of the recession in the US financial market. We had a further two Commission Meetings and Leadership Group meetings in preparation for the Global Summit.

Monday 20th July

We had to report back to our Leadership Group and Country Group on what had happened in our Commissions so that we could maintain an overview of the summit as a whole. We then had a speaker from the financial world, Mr DeNaut from Deutsche Bank. He emphasised the impact of globalisation in terms of the current global recession and hinted that perhaps in the future Europe would be favoured as a more stable financial entity because of the origins of the recession in the US financial market. We had a further two Commission Meetings and Leadership Group meetings in preparation for the Global Summit.

Tuesday 21st July

After breakfast we spent some hours negotiating with other country groups to try and win support for our resolution, ahead of the debate in the United Nations. We then boarded buses and drove to the United Nations where we heard from Ms Sorensen who had many years experience in the different functions of the UN. She was able to give us a rare insight into the lives of diplomats and the prerequisits for jobs in international relations. That evening we had our ‘National Delegation Rally’ where each country had to sing a song or dance to show off an aspect of their culture. The Saudi Arabian group danced to ‘Saudi boy – crank dat oil’ (new lyrics to the pop song ‘Soulja boy’) and got Christian from Florida to do a belly dance.

Wednesday 22nd July

Finally after much preparation we had our Global Summit in the United Nations buildings on Manhattan. Being in a real UN conference hall gave a great atmosphere to the debates. Unfortunately Saudi Arabia did not become a permanent Security Council member, but it was a close vote and we definitely won over many member nations. Inevitably the threat of a veto was what killed the resolution. The resolution from Human Rights regarding the problem of Genocide contained a clause that was in breach of the UN charter. To change the charter requires a 2/3 majority vote in the general assembly. I had a copy of the UN Charter with me and realised this wasn’t in order, so Saudi Arabia made a point of order and the resolution failed without reaching the 2/3 majority.

We had lunch in China town and little Italy, it was fascinating to see the diversity on Manhattan island, as these places actually felt as though they were in a different country. We returned to Manhattan College to discuss the events of the summit with our country groups and to get ready for the farewell dinner cruise. The cruise around Manhattan Island was a beautiful way to see the city and to end the experience, and provided many photo opportunities with my friends.

Thursday 23rd July

Everyone had become surprisingly close during the conference and as it was the last day I had to say goodbye to many friends. Even though the conference had a strict schedule and an even stricter lights out at 10.30, that really just marked the start of the evening’s socialising. We moved from room to room after lights out and chatted and got to know many more people than we would have otherwise, these informal gatherings went on into the small hours and we ended up sleeping in whatever room we were in when we got sufficiently tired, returning to our own rooms in the morning to shower and change. I made the most of these opportunities to meet other young people from all around the world and to exchange contact details with them.

The conference ended at 10am but my flight wasn’t until 9pm that night. Luckily there were others who also had late flights so we spent the day together exploring Manhattan.

Home

Keeping in contact with almost 350 people across 5 continents can never be easy, but it’s been possible through Facebook. For the first few days that I was home I existed not in East Coast time or GMT, but in ‘internet time’ which was simply whatever time people were uploading their GYLC photos to facebook. I’ve been able to chat to many of the other scholars so we can keep in touch. I wouldn’t recommend it as a cure for jetlag though, as when I’m talking to people in America it might be early evening for them but 2am for me! Even more complicated are those in Australia, I have to bear in mind that evening for me is morning for them. It’s also strange to be reminded that they are still in their winter so are not off school. The amount of followup on facebook has been incredible, the days after the conference I would be struggling through 75 messages each morning and I’m already organising to meet up with some of the scholars in London at Christmas as well as a reunion being planned for the future.

Download the full schedule.