AS if the times we live in aren’t interesting enough, Yorkshire and the Humber has voted in a brand-new Member of the European Parliament who represents the Green Party. And what a MEP.
It’s fair to say that there hasn’t been one like Magid ‘Magic’ Magid before. The 29-year-old former Lord Mayor of Sheffield, the youngest-ever councillor to hold the post, famously ‘banned’ President Trump from visiting the city and ran a half marathon dressed as a tree to highlight his opposition to his city council’s controversial felling policy.
Magid was born in Somalia and came to the UK as a young boy, unable to speak English. His childhood was spent in the tough Burngreave area of Sheffield, but he pushed himself to take A-Levels, then a degree in aquatic zoology at Hull University.
He could easily have been adopted as a poster boy for many a political party. However, his approach is highly individualistic and his single-mindedness has made an impression both in his home city – and on YouTube – where his videos are popular, especially with young people like my 16-year-old son.
Jack emerged from his room last week and announced that he wanted to go and vote. Could we somehow get him into the polling station to make his mark? When I explained that sadly this would be impossible and also illegal, he struck up his well-rehearsed defence of why the voting age should be lowered.
He would vote Green of course, he added almost as an afterthought. As if he would vote anything else. Do not under-estimate the political engagement of the Greta Thunberg generation. Tomorrow really does belong to them and they’re doing something about it.
The other week Jack’s younger sister, Lizzie, asked if she could order a re-usable drinking straw off the internet because she is trying to cut down her use of plastic. She’s 13.
On a Bank Holiday trip last weekend, they spent a good half hour in the back of the car debating which fast-food joint to patronise, based on the best policy regarding recyclable packaging. The dinosaurs in the front, toying with their tribal instincts versus the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, suddenly felt their world was very small.
It’s a feeling clearly familiar to others of our generation, not least what we might call the more traditional politicians. I can remember a time when the environment brief was a backwater for a senior minister, the kind of department which rarely made waves. Now it’s literally a hotbed of radicalism.
No aspiring political leader these days can ignore matters such as food security, for instance, especially if a hard Brexit should come to pass. Are our food production industries fit for purpose? Are they capable of sustainability, in all senses? Is veganism the only answer in the long run?
Luckily for Conservative leadership contenders Michael Gove, who is the present Environment Secretary, and Rory Stewart – recently promoted to International Development Secretary – have useful authority and insight to offer from their own political experiences.
While Gove has quietly gained the trust of many in the farming industry, Stewart has been making some interesting points about how climate change can no longer be regarded as a stand-alone issue.
Writing recently for the ConservativeHome website, he stressed the importance of bringing the debate out of Westminster and into our own villages, towns and cities, arguing for example that London shouldn’t “get all the attention on air quality, when central Leeds also has a serious problem”.
He also made a fundamental point which is gaining traction, especially in our region. Concern for the environment and love of nature, history and geography should go hand-in-hand. Citizens of the future need a thorough understanding of the symbiotic relationships which make up the universe. This is big stuff; we need politicians who can lead the debate and put into place policies which educate us all throughout our lives.
Tackling environmental concerns is no longer the preserve of the slightly wacky and/or well-educated. It’s been brought admirably to our television screens by the work of Sir David Attenborough, amongst others, and it stares us in the face every time we see a load of fly-tipped rubbish by the side of the road.
That’s one of the reasons why Magid Magid has captured plenty of hearts and minds and 13 per cent of the Yorkshire and Humber vote, enough to secure his place in Brussels.
As he will no doubt discover when he comes back down to earth, one man cannot change everything overnight. However, at a time when we are being asked to think about what we really want to happen instead of pinning our colours to the same old masts, there is one universal shade which ought to unite us all. And that’s green.