The constituency mail bag of any MP is a remarkable phenomenon. You get letters of every imaginable (and some pretty unimaginable) kinds and you learn not to be surprised by anything – from the most heart-rending cases of individual injustices through to the most amazingly philosophical observations about the nature of things.
But, just once in a while, something comes along that even someone used to such a mail bag over what is now, for me, some 820 weeks finds entirely unexpected.
This happened to me a little while ago when an organisation called the Citizenship Foundation got in touch with me.
The Citizenship Foundation is, it turns out, a worthy body that attempts to encourage people to take part in democratic processes. Its aim seems to be to ensure that people take their responsibility as citizens seriously – and who can argue with that? So I opened up the e-mail – and I discovered that, in this particular instance, the idea was wholly novel.
It seems that the Citizenship Foundation in partnership with the insurance company Aviva is trying to provide young people with the opportunity to take part in creating the next Budget.
In the run up to this year’s Budget, young people will be able to go on line and take the chance to be Chancellor for a period, making decisions on tax and spending on the basis of information that derives from the real world.
Among the many advantages I can see in this is the fact that young people who participate will begin to get a sense of just how difficult these decisions are. I have always found there is a tendency to assume that it’s all pretty straightforward – and I am sure that’s why a former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, once remarked that it’s a pity that Britain isn’t run exclusively by taxi drivers and hairdressers, because he had been told by very large numbers in each of these professions exactly how to run the country on numerous occasions.
The truth is that we all have a tendency to assume that anything we do not have to do ourselves would be pretty easy to do – whereas, in fact, it turns out in practice that being a hairdresser or a taxi driver or a doctor or a teacher or almost anything else (including Chancellor) is jolly difficult once you try it.
So I am convinced that young people who do take part in this exercise will indeed fulfil the aspiration of the Citizenship Foundation by becoming much more aware of how our democracy really works.
If any person reading this would like to participate themselves, or if any teacher reading this would like their class of 14 to 18 years olds to take part, I hope they will make contact with me right away.