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

 

 

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.