I think many, if not most youngsters, especially at an early age, would say ‘no way’ when asked if they’re interested in politics – ‘I think it’s boring’ or ‘I don’t understand any of it’ are the sort of replies that come back when asked about the subject. However, there are a number of youngsters on the Rock who do take a keen interest in local politics with a few joining youth wings of Gibraltar’s political groupings. For 19 year old Mark, his love of ‘affairs of the state’ locally, UK, the US and elsewhere reigns supreme to the point I’ve heard him describe himself as a ‘political nerd…!’ “The fact that my grandfather, Aurelio Montegriffo, was a Government Minister during the period when the Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights (AACR) was in power and my great aunt Marie Monegriffo was also a minister in a former GSLP government may have, subconsciously, influenced my thinking.”
Mark was given a book on former Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan which made him more aware about his granddad’s involvement and Gibraltar politics generally. “I must have been 14 or 15 and my interest in the subject has increased since then. Reading Leon Tolstoy and George Orwell made a great impression on me also.” Mark is now about halfway through his university degree. He’s studying Politics and Philosophy and may go on to a Masters. His thinking at present, when he completes his studies, is to go for journalism or political work in think tanks.
Mark is an avid blogger contributing regularly to Your Gibraltar Television (YGTV), ‘The Mancunion’ (his University of Manchester periodical) and often the UK’s New Statesman, known for its progressive and liberal politics, intelligent content, quality and analysis. The likes of Bertrand Russell, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and JB Priestley amongst others, are just a few of the luminaries who have contributed to The New Statesman also! His input there has been varied from suggesting the ‘Left’ in the UK should recognise the principle of self-determination; “Yes, amongst other things because the word originates from left wing thoughts and the proposal of joint sovereignty with Spain for the Rock some years ago was not on, especially coming from a modern day Labour party,”
Mark highlights the importance of citizens taking part in elections because, he says, “Politicians take non-voters as those without an opinion so you must vote!” Mark also writes articles on university life in the UK for Gibraltarian students when explaining to others at uni what Gibraltar is all about, again – his pet subject – with regard to the politics of the Rock, “Local students in the UK need to gen-up to better explain what we’re all about when you get the usual, ‘why don’t you want to be Spanish?’ and similar comments.”
Our 19 year old political columnist writes about Gibraltar’s past, present and future politics much of the time which helps to get the message across to a wider audience, “Well, I was part of representative delegations visiting EU institutions and the US, experiencing the international diplomacy the Rock’s been engaging in, in commerce, lobbying our right to defend our political wishes, so all of that helps to put across more about who we are and what we want to achieve. It was amazing to have been chosen for those trips and that too, further sparked my interest in politics. It made me appreciate to a clearer extent the challenges facing Gibraltar from the perspective of international relations.”
The political scenario in the States has also helped to draw young Mark to politics ever since President Obama’s election in 2008.Mark was not even ten then! In his YGTV blog, he raises the point about fickle voters in the States, the UK, locally or wherever, tiring of an incumbent administration no longer being ‘flavour of the month’ and voting for another party. If the state of politics was eternally blissful, Mark claims, there would be no reason to want to change it. In Gibraltar, Mark feels people are getting tired of the never-ending personality clashes and some changes would be welcome; “I think we need some new talent, a new group. I joined the GSD in 2011 but I’m not involved there anymore. There are some individuals without a home so I do feel there is a place for Independents but they would find it hard to get in because of the ‘party’ political system. There are those who’ve spent time abroad and bring with them valuable experience. The idea of backbenchers in Parliament would also provide wider and more substantive debate.”
Where does Mark fall in the political spectrum? “Somewhere on the left wing, I would say, maybe slightly centre. There are different shades of everything and I feel Gibraltar’s ideology is unique.” On the external front, Mark would agree it’s a sensitive tight rope we have to negotiate, especially now, with Brexit looming over the Rock, “We’re dealing with the UK, Spain, Europe and others, and nobody needs to be dogmatic, our direction would be somewhat separate, perhaps towards a micro city state but so much depends on Spain’s attitude. I think we sometimes grow weary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO’s) empty rhetoric and we would like to see a more pro-active stance from the UK but maybe I can be accused of youthful idealism and naivety!” Well, perhaps that could be viewed by some to be the case but we have to live in hope of better things beyond the political horizon. However, naive or not, Mark declares, “The Rock’s not for turning!”
We never know what’s around the corner and just in case journalism, think tanks or even politics are not to be, Mark dabbles in music when he can find some spare time away from blogging and New Statesman articles; “I was ten years old when I started to learn to play classical guitar. Now, I’m into folky type music, not unlike what the likes of Bob Dylan produces. I write songs with a friend at uni called Oli with whom I’ve been recording a few songs in a studio in Manchester,” an upbeat Mark informs me.
That made me think, if music stirs, motivates or even inspires him as much as politics does, a new Bob Dylan may emerge… I hope not, I wouldn’t like him to cease being – his words – ‘A Political Nerd!’
words | Richard Cartwright