Seatbelts. Those ubiquitous details of the commute, the school run, the long drive to see family. We use them every day – but it wasn’t always that way. Parliamentary initiatives to make the use of seatbelts compulsory failed on successive occasions, until 1981, when Mr Barry Sheerman MP, Labour representative for Huddersfield, successfully campaigned for an amendment to the Transport Act, making seatbelt wearing a legal requirement. The secret to his success? Princess Diana. More precisely, her wedding to Prince Charles, which lured several Conservative MPs away from Parliament on the day of the vote, allowing the amendment to finally pass.
Great to meet the @Rene_Cassin fellows in Parliament to discuss the do’s and don’ts of political campaigning. I hope to see you all in the future leading human rights campaigns! pic.twitter.com/MSY5vrV1Iv
— Barry Sheerman (@BarrySheerman) October 11, 2018
On Tuesday 9th October, this year’s Rene Cassin Fellowship cohort were lucky enough to hear this anecdote, and many others, from Barry, as we learnt how to select and manage a political campaign. From promoting sustainable resources to advocating for people with autism and regenerating the house of 19th century poet John Clare, it became clear that there were few issues to which Barry could not direct his enthusiasm and tenacity. Our meeting with him followed on from a Parliamentary debate about modern slavery, where we watched several MPs urge the government to improve relevant legislation and direct more resources at the problem.
Watching politics in action, and then engaging with one of the UK’s longest serving MPs, granted us insight into the multifaceted nature of campaigning and illuminated how many channels for communication and awareness-raising are available. As we get closer and closer to our Fellowship graduation, it’s inspiring to know that the skills and knowledge we have developed over the past year can be actualised in our campaigns, through handwork, political engagement, and that final magic ingredient – luck.