Alex Rukin could be the youngest person ever to address parliament. Photo: YouTube screengrab
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“It’s a stupid idea”: the nine-year-old boy who challenged MPs in parliament on HS2

Baby of the House.

It wasn’t the most fun-filled father-son day out: sitting in the Palace of Westminster, addressing the HS2 hybrid bill committee on a new rail line that will run over a viaduct opposite to a house in Balsall Common in the West Midlands. But nine-year-old Alex Rukin can now go back to his Year Five class in Warwickshire claiming to be one of the youngest people ever to address parliament. 

After obtaining permission from his swimming teacher to skip class, Rukin, along with his father Joe Rukin – the national campaign manager of Stop HS2 – explained to the committee that the construction work near his mother’s house in Balsall Common would disrupt his sleep and threaten traffic chaos for years to come. In an online petition he said that HS2 is a “stupid” idea and that it will “ruin my life”.

Rukin – who achieved 93 per cent in his last maths test – also said that the “HS2 people”, “really really need my help at maths” after he claimed their calculations on expenditure were incorrect. 

He marked the occasion by dressing in his boy-scouts attire: decorated in badges showing his services to hiking, camping, map reading and road traffic awareness. He also had his teddy bear, Ellie the elephant, to help him through the hearing.

Rukin, who will be ten next month, wrote in his online petition before the committee hearing:

Your petitioner thinks it is unfair that he and his friends will have to pay more money forever for something they think isn’t needed and they won’t have enough money to be able to use it.

Your Petitioner, who started doing video conferencing at school when he was six, wonders if the old people who say we need HS2 have ever even heard of the Internet, Skype or Facetime. Even Your Petitioners' Dad uses them, and when he went to the same school, they only had one computer on a trolley for the whole school.

Your Petitioner has been told that saying things which are not true is naughty, so does not understand why the HS2 people say things that are not true and get given lots of money.

But Jenny Evans, 46, a mother of seven and a witness on the select committee panel said: “I question the validity of it. I don’t think he understands it at such a young age.”

Alex’s father, Joe Rukin, said: “As far as we can tell Alex will become the youngest person to have ever appeared in an official capacity before parliament! This makes sense to me, as apart from the specific instance of hybrid bill committees, I can’t think of any case when someone that young would have the opportunity, apart from maybe Edward VI!

“After I explained what petitioning was, he said he thought everyone in the whole country should be doing it, because he thinks HS2 is such a bad idea, and the wrong thing to spend lots of money on. He is committed to doing something about something he thinks is wrong, and I’m really proud about that.”

Following the committee hearing, Alex was greeted with a hug from his father and promised a trip to the Harry Potter studios.

Watch his performance at the bill committee hearing here:

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn



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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.