PolEcon is an annual conference which serves as a platform aimed at engaging A-level students in the tapestry of contemporary politics. This is to ultimately foster awareness among the next generation of leaders. Thankfully, I found myself immersed in this whirlwind of intellectual exchange and attended PolEcon 2024 at the beginning of this month. The topics spanned from human rights, immigration, and the significance of free speech.

One session featured Baroness Chakrabarti, a prominent politician and barrister who is renowned for her advocacy of human rights. She made an enticing case for the defence of universal human rights, emphasizing the urgent need to confront its growing threats. As she states in her upcoming book ‘Human Rights: The Case for the Defence’: “To believe in human rights is to believe in human beings.”  Drawing from her experience as former director of Liberty, her session illustrated the importance of safeguarding fundamental freedoms in an increasingly complex world. Among the array of speakers, Wes Streeting, the Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care, shared his journey from growing up in East London to then becoming a Member of Parliament. Furthermore, discussions on gender equality in politics were led by Sarah Olney MP. Both of their talks shed light on the obstacles they encountered, offering valuable insights into the realities that individuals from differing backgrounds face when aspiring to rise to political leadership. It was Lord Dubs' account of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor and advocate for refugee rights that left a lasting impression on me. He spoke about his experiences in refugee camps, shedding light on the realities faced by many displaced individuals. His impassioned plea for solidarity struck a chord and served as a reminder of the relevance of human empathy. Zack Polanski, Deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, called out pleas for an immediate ceasefire underscoring the urgency of addressing global conflicts. Tensions have been escalating in various regions, and Polanski's call for peace resonated profoundly with the audience. The audience straw polls conducted before and after the session revealed that his speech had left the largest lasting impact, surprising many positively. In stark contrast, figures like Richard Tice and Jacob Rees-Mogg presented contrasting viewpoints, sparking debates on immigration, war, and national security. The theme of civil discourse was then explored in a panel discussion featuring Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart, where they offered compelling answers that the crowd had prepared for their podcast, “The Rest is Politics”. In a time that is marked by polarization, their call for "disagreeing agreeably" showcased the value of respectful dialogue. 

Within the lineup, it is evident that the speakers held diverse views, making the conference truly remarkable. As an aspiring journalist, I've realised that delving into diverse political perspectives is crucial for achieving my goal. I enjoyed actively seeking insights from different sides of the political spectrum as it enabled me to grasp complex narratives. Musa Grunhard, who had attended the conference with me, stated that it was “truly eye-opening as it served as a catalyst for my desire to be consistently informed”. The discussions that were held at PolEcon 2024 will undeniably shape the political sphere as we approach the upcoming general election, and I am sincerely grateful to have been part of this impactful experience.