Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Paris Brown: An Unnecessary Character Assassination Perpetrated By Stupid People

What place youth in our modern democracy?
If we are going to give responsibility to 17-year-olds, we must be prepared to forgive them their goofs.

Offensive tweets or offensive system?
A teenager called Paris Brown has got herself into the news today.  The Kent 17-year-old was due to become Britain's first youth crime commissioner, but has withdrawn from the role after the press got hold of her tweets.

I won’t bother you with what she said – suffice it to say that they were the kind of childish, loutish, show-off comments that anybody who has lived or worked with teenagers knows they can (and often do) make.

She was 14 when the most offensive remarks occurred, and she is 17 now.  And I think it is a disgrace that she should have been hounded into resigning … that no one stepped forward and protected her.

Paris Brown’s demise says worse things about our political system than it ever says about Paris Brown.

Getting ‘Real’ About Youth
I do not know Paris Brown, but in principle I deny that is a relevant issue.
What I have to say goes to the nub of how we seek to involve young people in general.

What is the point of saying that we want to involve young people in the democratic process if, when they turn up and start behaving like young people, we immediately go all horrified and get rid of them?  The young people with whom we ever interact are by default the more intelligent, more responsible and more coherent youths.   If they were not, they would not ever have got to the point where they were involved in what – let’s face it – is an old people’s system.

Our structures of meetings and reports and resolutions are so alien to the lives and proclivities of normal youths that any young person who gets involved is by definition exceptional (in every sense of the word).

How often do we EVER meet a ‘normal’ youth in a political meeting?  The young people whom we ever meet on a deputation or a youth council are not only far, far removed from the gangs you find hanging round on every estate – they are far, far removed from the gaggles of youngsters who gather for activities we oldies would regard as ‘wholesome’.  It takes something different in a youngster to give up the ipod and the party and go to sit for two hours to talk to a bunch of 60-year-olds about political matters.   But – unless they have someone fierce to defend them – we often do not even then accept them, but subject them to a process of censure and setbacks and criticism which weeds out even these exceptional youngsters.

The result, unless one is very careful, is that the young people involved in politics are not young at all, but are old people in a young body.  As always, I refuse to allow you to compartmentalise what I am saying into a general attack on young politicians – I am sure many of them are lovely – but we have all met the ‘youth politician’ who, let’s face it, is just odd … a William_Haguesque monster.

And then we listen to what is even then trite, inexperienced drivel, and clap like lunatics, and put responsibilities upon their shoulders far beyond their years, and set them up to fail.

But, hey, we believe in youth, don’t we?

‘The kiddies are our future,’ as I am often told.  The trick is to make this more than meaningless twaddle ... to make it happen.

Involving Youth
I have always opposed giving 16-year-olds the vote.  Having worked 40 years as a secondary teacher, I think they are too young to appreciate what they are doing.

What I believe we need to do is to devise AGE-APPROPRIATE ways of drafting young people into the democratic process.

Amongst other things, that involves setting up systems where they can safely fail.  Failure is the greatest teacher of all, and our aspirant young people need to be able to make their mistakes, learn the lessons, pick themselves up, and have another go.

Great Aycliffe Town Council has a Youth Council.   It gives them a budget, and I try to defend their right to spend it as they choose.   In fact, they analyse each decision thoroughly, dole the money out in ounces, and rarely spend up to budget – they are models of financial caution, and I commend them.  But if they were to mess up and waste it, that is a learning experience; the Council does not give them the money to spend it how the councillors want it spent – it gives them it so that they might learn how to disburse the public purse.

This year we have two 18-year-olds standing for Labour for election as Town Councillors in Aycliffe.  Do we need them on the Council? Yes we do, and how!  And when they are elected, I hope the Council will listen to them, take what they say into account, and try to provide an environment in which they can grow in experience and succeed.

Paris Brown
The real failure in the tale of Paris Brown is Kent PCC Ann Barnes, who said she would stand by her and then didn’t.  The other problem, of course, is the press, who seem unable to distinguish between a real scandal, and a teenager who has made a foolish error of judgement.  Everybody should have been told to take a running jump, and Paris Brown should have been allowed to start her job.

Paris Brown made a mistake.  She messed up.  You do that when you are 17.
But if we REALLY want to engage with youth, we better start taking that into account.

(Legally-required attribution: published and promoted by John D Clare on behalf of John D Clare.)


  1. Well written with some good points, I like it but does anyone read it? that is the question.

  2. In a way, the media have incriminated themselves. To publish the comments she made at the age of 14, shows that some parasite has trawled through three years of her tweets searching for dirt. At 14, she should be protected by law against her private comments being dragged into the public domain. As a child she cannot be held responsible for her comments, that's why we have a recognised age of adulthood, whereby at such an age one is expected to understand that they will be responsible for the things they say. And for that reason, I view her appointment as neo-liberal nonsense. It goes hand in hand with making children consumers at an every younger age, to give them the responsibility of office at an ever younger age. Universal suffrage stands at the age of 18 in the UK, it should also be the minimum age an individual can take office, because it is the age at which we recognise that an individual is responsible for what they say and do. You cannot have an individual with the power of public office, below the age of full adult self responsibility. And those who sought to sully her by dragging into the public domain comments she made as a child are spineless parasites. That said, I think giving youth this kind of responsible role is a complete joke.