New Term

Very good luck to all the young people (and teachers of course!) who are heading to school, university, or are starting their apprenticeship. I wish you every success.

Back in Parliament, this term began with the launch of my parliamentary inquiry into the impact of social media on adolescent mental health. It’s a cross-party, three-part, inquiry which I’ve organised with respected charities, the Children’s Society and Young Minds. I’ve been grateful that Labour MPs like Yvette Cooper and Sarah Champion have come on board to act as panellists.

The first (harrowing) session took evidence from young people, some of whom had been driven to the verge of suicide by the vicious bullying online. Bullying isn’t new of course. But the young people spoke with chilling clarity about how nowadays social media can amplify it beyond all recognition. Young people, glued to their smartphones, can feel there is no escape.

It’s a message I have heard time and again when I visit Cheltenham schools, and most recently, when I met young people in town doing the National Citizenship Service course.

This inquiry doesn’t pretend that we’re going to solve everything of course. But I want it to improve our understanding of the scale of the problem. I also want it to shine a light on whether the big corporates are doing enough to tackle this epidemic. The early evidence suggests not. Time after time young people pointed out that the big platforms were slow to act, and that bullies who were driving schoolchildren to despair were getting away scot-free.

Back in Cheltenham, as the tickets for the Literature Festival go on sale, it’s more clear than ever that our town has a wonderful range of internationally recognised events. But are we missing a trick? Should we be doing more to celebrate our town and its heritage?

Up and down the country, communities hold local events to celebrate their history and culture. Just think of Gloucester. Back in 2009 the city reinstated an annual day of celebration. The event originally dates from the lifting of the siege of Gloucester in 1643. The modern celebrations involve a parade, and a bit of pomp and the mock election of a Gloucester Barton Mayor.

Our story is different of course. But shouldn’t we be doing something similar in Cheltenham to celebrate it? We could involve local schools in marking the discovery of of the spa waters 300 years ago. We could remember the role of sea-captain Henry Skillicorne and the 1788 visit of George III. And we could recall Cheltenham’s role in developing Britain’s first jet aircraft prototype. There’s so much more besides which could promote civic pride and boost tourism.

Worth considering? Let me know your thoughts at alex.chalk.mp@parliament.uk