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Head Master's Lecture: Martin Bell OBE
1st March 2017

Head Master's Lecture: Martin Bell OBE

On 15 February, Lancing College was delighted to welcome Martin Bell, OBE, for the first of the Lent Term's Head Master's Lectures. A former soldier, war reporter, MP, current UNICEF ambassador and poet, Martin became known as 'The Man in the White Suit' and famously stood as the first independent MP in 49 years, representing Tatton from 1997 to 2001.

Martin Bell OBE: 'The Man in the White Suit'

In his lecture Perilous Planet: 50 Years in the Unquiet Corners of the World, Mr Bell emphasised the importance of participation from the younger generation, arguing that youth apathy is a serious issue: he firmly believes that 'there is more to be learned from failing than succeeding'. He drew upon his experience in the military, and explained how despite achieving the rank of Corporal, he never became a commissioned officer, instead remaining an NCO. He argued that 'the army is run by the NCOs’, comparing this logic with the importance of democratic participation from the young. Speaking about the limitations of participatory democracy, he argued that politics is too important to be left to the politicians.

As a former MP, he expressed his concern on Oxbridge graduates getting engaged in politics straight after university only having very limited experience of the 'real world'. When asked why he himself chose to stand for election, he responded "out of curiosity", and confessed that he believed he had become an MP by accident, a sentiment further explained in his book An Accidental MP. To an extent, Mr Bell believes in the reduced influence of the party whips, who reduce individualism in politics, and quoted Theodore Roosevelt in saying that "credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood," not the "cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Further criticism for the British system of government fell on current Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, with Mr Bell saying that he believed he has "had his time". He also spoke favourably about the possibility of the voting age to be lowered to 16, especially in light of the Brexit vote.

Talking about the current geopolitical climate, Mr Bell also expressed his concern at Trump’s election and the Brexit outcome. He stated his fears that the current global situation is more dangerous than it has ever been, even more so than during the Cold War. Amongst his concerns were the threats to the environment, the danger of jihad, and the recent pressures to journalism and democracy with the emergence of the 'post-truth era' and 'alternative facts.' Talking about Trump and his rhetoric, he said that journalism has a moral responsibility to fight the war on news, and believes that Brexit and Trump's election are a threat to the very foundations of the Western world.

Students had more opportunity to speak with Mr Bell over supper

The visit provided an invaluable opportunity for Lancing's students to ask questions and even share more time with Mr Bell afterwards over supper, where selected students were able to ask further questions. He provided an alternative, and highly entertaining, view of the political field, from the perspective of someone who has experienced first-hand the 'great game' of politics.

Rebecca L, Lower Sixth Form