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

 

 

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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