Parliament Week and practical political education


It’s Parliament Week. What do you think about practical political education?

The polls in the Rochester and Strood by-election are due to close at 10pm tonight but the comment and opinion will go on for days. Russell Brand is urging people not to vote. The Scots are more engaged in democratic processes now than at any other time in living memory.

Do politics leave you cold, bored, annoyed, interested or motivated to get involved? The WEA believes in education for an active and inclusive democracy within society  – and within our own organisation – and encourages people to explore these issues.

Political education doesn’t have a very high profile and yet it can have a big impact on our ability to shape the policies that affect every aspect of our lives. Too many people don’t understand how complex political systems work and think their votes and involvement don’t make a difference. Are they right? How can we make sure that decision makers in Parliament and in local government are more truly representative of the communities they serve?

The WEA supports Parliament Week and is a member of the Democracy Matters alliance.

Our new one-day ‘Politics for Outsiders’ courses in the Eastern Region of England are designed to share ideas and discover the difference that politics can make. They will also give opportunities to think about how to engage others in making more of their democratic power in achieving vital social goals. The day schools are a joint initiative between the WEA and the Question the Powerful project and will be tutored by Dr. Henry Tam who is Director of the Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy at University of Cambridge. (For more information see Henry Tam: Words & Politics: ). There has been a lot of positive feedback about his contribution to the WEA Eastern Region’s AGM on the subject of, “‘What has politics ever done for us?”

You can find out more about ‘Politics for Outsiders’ here.

Any other links to practical political education to celebrate Parliament Week?

A novel approach to political thinking

Henry Benedict Tam is well-known in the WEA because of his extensive experience in supporting the development of inclusive communities. He has led previous government initiatives on delivering wider democratic empowerment, promoting civil renewal and improving community-based regeneration. He has also been a thought-provoking speaker at various WEA events and has challenged us constructively from time to time. A former civil servant in the Home Office and Department of Communities and Local Government, he is currently the Director of Cambridge University’s Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy.

Henry Tam

Professor Tam has drawn on his expertise as a policy advisor, programme director and political theorist to write extensively on politics and society, but, in a rather surprising new project, he has now written his first novel, Kuan’s Wonderland. He describes the book as a fable to intrigue and prompt debate. “Some may find it subversive”, he told me, “but aren’t novels meant to be?”

Many reviewers have responded favourably to this highly imaginative fantasy novel.  It tells the story of a young boy captured and taken to a nightmare world where appearances invariably deceive.  I was particularly fascinated by its multi-layered storylines which unfold at pace through its visually captivating characters and plot twists.

It works well as science fiction taken at face value but is very much deeper than the surface tale about a child’s adventures in a mysterious and bewildering world. The book offers an unusual starting point for rethinking a wide range of issues including the nature of society, wrongful imprisonment and the distribution of resources. The fantasy world setting means that readers can discuss thorny social issues without using real-world labels and preconceptions.

Professor Tam hopes that groups of readers will find Kuan’s Wonderland a useful as well as entertaining novel to stimulate discussions of subjects such as power, justice, personal endurance and moral authenticity.

Kuan’s experiences do raise a lot of questions and show that there are no easy answers to life’s problems. There are many possible options and choices to be weighed. Henry Tam’s novel is going to help challenge assumptions and encourage readers to exchange thoughts on the continuing conundrum of what is to be done.

You can find more information about the book (and how to download the e-edition) at: