Shadowing Jude Kirton-Darling, MEP, both in her North-East constituency and in Brussels, has taught me so much, both about the way the EU is run, and about the variety of views amongst the British public about the future of Britain without the EU, and without connections to the work that it does.
As part of a consultation that North East Labour MEPs, (Jude Kirton-darling and Paul Brannen) organised in order to discover the North East's priorities for negotiations as Britain prepares to leave the EU, I attended events across the region that focussed on the priorities of young people, small and medium businesses, the software sector, trade unions, and the culture sector. As a young person, and as someone who has always been interested in culture, I learned a lot both through talking to people from backgrounds and sectors I had previous experience of, and those I knew little about.
I found that young people of a similar age to me with different experiences from my own growing up in the Tyne Valley offered a new perspective on the challenges and opportunities presented by the vote to leave the EU. Similarly, listening to the views of the culture sector about how their work, by its nature linked to Europe, will be affected by the vote to leave the EU, gave me a new perspective on how a positive conclusion to negotiations can be reached. Hearing the concerns of other sectors that were entirely new to me has made me think about ways that the ongoing dialogue, that I feel we should all be a part of, can be inclusive for all, regardless of background, age or profession.
Work in Brussels was both exciting and challenging, as I shadowed Jude at meetings in the Petitions, International Trade and the Industry, Trade, Research and Energy committees. I feel I now understand the principles and work of the EU in a way that I couldn’t have done without this first-hand experience. I soon began to build upon what I had seen and learned during UK shadowing, for example, when members of the Industry, Research and Energy committee met with Universities UK to discuss the future of research opportunities and funding.
As well as the content of discussion, I feel that shadowing in the UK and shadowing in Brussels are linked by the hope that I take away as a result of my experiences. A particularly moving experience during UK shadowing was listening to the maiden speech of Tracy Brabin, succeeding Jo Cox as MP for Batley and Spen, and this too gave me great hope. Nobody will ever forget the tragedy of Jo Cox's death but listening to this speech left me with a lasting sense of the good that her legacy is and will continue to do. As the EU faces the uncertainty brought by Brexit and the result of the US election, continued discussion is of great importance. I am grateful that I was able to share thoughts about President-elect Trump in Parliament with Jude and the rest of the office. My shadowing took place at a time that is politically terrifying and unstable, but one that I now feel need not be a time of helplessness, but one which necessitates a continuation of work towards positive change.
Overall, my experience shadowing Jude has made me think differently about some issues, and reinforced my opinion on others. But above all it has been one of the most amazing and rewarding things I have ever done, reaffirming for me how conflict resolving and unifying the EU can be. It has filled me with enthusiasm for future political events, and a role that I might be able to play in them.