All-action election should help us get kids thinking

7th May 2010 at 01:00

Last night will truly go down as a once-in-a-generation, historic election - a surprise result in some ways, in others only to be expected. This morning, as we unpick the results, we contemplate an outcome some will have predicted but hesitated to place a firm bet on.

Insofar as our victor can confidently emerge from the ballot to claim the crown, we watch as he enters Number 10, asking if he really does so with a mandate to lead? The losing side has to now be asking serious questions about why they didn't see this coming, while also considering the implications for their leadership. The outcome may be savage, indeed, and already there is talk of the contenders awaiting with sharpened knives ...

OK. So I have utterly no idea what the result was last night. Such are the challenges imposed by this newspaper's deadlines, which have required me to write a comment piece about the election several days before the polls opened. The closeness of the survey results, and likelihood of a hung Parliament, have also made educated guesswork tricky. But I can make a few more predictions.

The result will cause Labour to reflect, not just on Gordon Brown's long-term leadership but also on lessons learned about it, in the heat of an election campaign. For the Conservatives this result represents the climax of the Cameron experiment, and raises questions about how effectively it has united the various tensions in that party. After weeks of speculation about a hung parliament, the Lib Dem result bucks one of the many trends punters had foreseen, though one of the main outcomes is finally seeing just how much of a difference those television debates actually made to Nick Clegg's fortunes. We knew this was going to be a complex and controversial result but sitting looking at the electoral maths, I wonder how many of us saw this coming ...

Will that prove accurate? I won't know till Friday. So let's just hold out one certainty in this election: a vote is a great thing. Anyone tempted to be cynical about our democracy should take a look at Iraq, Sudan or Afghanistan. That vote should have particular value for those of us who are nurturing the development of tomorrow's electors.

As teachers we should model a total lack of cynicism. In the US, pledges and flags are underpinned by a sturdy civics curriculum, such that colleagues there practically celebrate their constitution. So let me make two suggestions about voting and young people, both connected with election stories.

There is a story told of a young lad, an eager campaigner, doing a shift on the phone bank from the Labour party. The computer throws up a number from the electoral register, he rings it and asks the chap who answers about his voting intentions. The man sounds like a committed supporter, so the young fella thinks he may even display a poster. He ventures to ask if the bloke has any links to the Labour party. At which point Lord Callaghan informs the blushing canvasser that he had been Labour prime minister between 1976 and 1979.

Sparing him the blushes, this morning we can celebrate the passing of an entire new generation into the whole business of catching up with party politics, casting a vote for the first time and possibly even taking up the thoroughly enjoyable baton of activism. To those who have gone for it this time round, welcome. It's a great cause - enjoy it.

I speak from experience. This will be my sixth general election involving cramming spare hours with canvassing. The privilege of getting involved in some small way in such a huge action as the selection of Government has a poetry all of its own.

However, it was while engaged in this activity that my second little story took place.

A few weeks ago I went, with our candidate in the constituency where I was campaigning, to visit a house. It was a sunny Saturday and we found a couple pottering around on the very doorstep we approached. The man began to ask a few questions. The woman soon lost interest and retreated into the house.

Seconds after she did this a little girl, their daughter, who I reckon was five or six, came running out to the doorstep, looking very excited. She looked up at myself and the candidate and asked: "Where is it?" At which point mum, clearly reflecting on her explanation to her daughter concerning these two visitors, shouted out: "Oh, darling - they're not that sort of party."

For me, it illustrates why we should work harder as a country on making elections part of the fabric of our children's lives. Maybe between now and the next election we could rescue the anaemic subject of citizenship in our primary schools and allow the sort of ritual with which we spent the last 24 hours to speak to today's youth.

Huw Thomas, Head, Emmaus Catholic and CofE Primary School, Sheffield.

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