This morning I met an outstanding group of sixth-formers. Despite it being the middle of exam season nearly 200 students gathered in the school hall (I believe voluntarily!) knowing they were going to meet and question politicians involved in the up-coming election.
I asked the students how many of them were entitled to vote in this election- many hands went up. I then asked how many would vote. The vast majority of those hands stayed up. We often hear negative things about young people but whenever I have had a chance to talk talk to school groups recently I have been very impressed from Norfolk to Cambridgeshire and today in Essex.
Caught up in the morass of expenses scandals there are many negative things being said about politicians. The three candidates today each gave our personal story of what had brought us to a stage where we decided to stop complaining from the outside and decide to put our own heads over the parapet in these local and international elections. The students then asked probing and informed questions. I was even followed out of the hall by two students wanting to know my views on Turkey and the EU.
OK this may not be a normal school in its approach to international affairs - it is a state comprehensive but an "International School" and the students sit the international baccalaureate, not A Levels.
At the end of the meeting the Co-Head Teacher gave a speech in defence of politicians. Very Brave. He implored the students to dig deeply into their education and conscience when deciding who to vote for. He asked them to think hard about why the newspapers print a story before believing it - he confronted the expenses scandal and asked them to debate what politicians should be paid (or go back to the dark days when only the wealthy could afford to do the job). He told them that the gap between politicians and people was larger than at any time he had known, but that without politics they would not today have their school, and it would be politicians and not bankers or financiers who have to sort out the mess of our economy. He even told them that politics is an honorable profession.
He told them that "there is noting wrong with having principles that evolve - what is wrong is having no principles". As a former banker turned politician I could have hugged him.