'Cause if you're little you can do a lot, you/
Mustn't let a little thing like 'little' stop you .../
Matilda the Musical
There are many proud moments along the rocky road of parenthood. I hadn't expected one of them to be the moment my child got into politics. But before you start imagining a 16-year-old William Hague addressing the Conservative party conference - stop. I mean politics on a small scale. A very small scale. School councils - the first tentative steps (clutching nothing but a book bag and a fistful of loom bands) into shaping a world governed by adults.
When my six-year-old daughter was elected a school councillor I was enormously proud. (I may even have leaked a drop of suppressed Tiger Mom juice). Granted, she has not stopped wars or reversed climate change during her tenure, but from a small child grows a voting adult. As we move into the all-important 100-day run-up to the UK's 2015 General Election saddled by people's declining propensity to vote, is it really possible to get children interested enough in elections to ensure they become future voters? How can we explain the sometimes unfathomable, often theatrical, and nearly always ugly world of electioneering to someone who only cares about where the next sugar hit is coming from?
I'm not as clued-up about politics as I should be or would like to be, so the school council became a handy microcosm of the big, bad world. Here's what we learnt:
It's not all about popularity - is it?
Voting shouldn't be about whose face pleases us the most. In the school election, the children were not allowed to vote for their best friends. To force the children to think hard about where to cast their vote, each candidate had to stand up and present why they thought they were best for the job. They learnt that it is important to think seriously about what candidates will achieve for you. The impact of making your cross on the ballot is far-reaching and, if the candidate is successful, you must live with your choice. After all, they may wear impressive Rapunzel hair slides now but how will you feel when they campaign for more lumps in the mashed potato? Take your right to vote seriously, make it for the right reasons and use it wisely.
The importance of wanting to make things better
The first task of the school council was to canvass their peers and come up with ideas for improvements. Some children wanted extra outdoor toys; others hankered after more non-uniform days. No one asked for sweeping reform of the teaching staff. This demonstrates that small changes are as valid as big ones. Never think that you or your ideas are too insignificant to make a difference. The desire to makes things better, be that in a school of 180 or a country of 64 million inhabitants, is a powerful force. You must believe that someone shares that passion enough to put it into action for you or else you will never get excited about voting. If you don't have a hand in choosing that champion then how can you make things better? You may find that those extra outdoor toys never appear.
And if all else fails ...
Stickers and badges
The ultimate incentive to get excited about elections. Most importantly, there are also lots of rosettes. Rosettes like a pony might wear! I wonder whether the lure of school council was based entirely on the coveted metal badges rather than a desire to represent the class. That is fine - just beware of choosing who you vote for based solely on your favourite colour.
School council restored my faith in democracy. It was exciting to see my daughter take pride in her elected role. (I hesitate to say I was impressed by her 'balls', after all the increasing percentage of women MPs in the UK proves that having balls isn't a requirement for the job.) If every potential voter in the General Election could have just an ounce of her enthusiasm then perhaps we're not a nation all at sea after all. Here was a tiara-wearing, Frozen-singing, fluffy-kitty-loving little girl taking a stand because she wanted to make a difference. She might never make Prime Minister (and I wouldn't wish it on her) but I hope she will grow up understanding the importance of democratic government. It is that immense power, for the moment only wielded in small hands, which will one day drive her to the polling station.