Joel Weiner: my role in the leaders' debate

The Jewish teenager who took on BNP leader
Nick Griffin about the Holocaust during an edition of the BBC’s Question Time
last year has taken centre stage again during the first party leaders’ televised
election debate on ITV.

Joel Weiner, 17-year-old son of Masorti Rabbi
Chaim Weiner and a sixth-former at JFS,  asked a question about what prime
minister Gordon Brown, Tory leader David Cameron and Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg
would do about improving education. The teenager said pupils were being
over-examined and under-taught, not enough money was being spent on schools and
that in turn led to bigger class sizes.

The day after his second appearance on
national television, Joel revealed that he had become a minor celebrity on his
return to school – but also had to deal with some irate teachers, who didn’t
think much of his “under-taught” comment.

Joel said: “Some of the teachers teased me
about that and they were not too happy. But I explained that it was an attack on
the system and I was very positive about my teachers. “It’s always very exciting
having someone on television in front of a lot of viewers. There was a very
good, positive atmosphere in school today and a lot of people congratulated
me.”

He also revealed how he became a member of
the audience, even though one of the 76 rules laid down by the party leaders
stipulated that the audience should come from within a 30-mile radius of the
host city, in this case Manchester.

Joel explained: “I applied on the ITV
website. There was a link and I sent an e-mail with my question. I thought they
might read out the question. I really didn’t think it would result in me being
asked to be in the audience. I think the question might have attracted their
attention.”

He said 200 people came from around
Manchester “but
there were a handful, maybe three or four, who were asked because of the
question they submitted. I was very lucky,” said the
teenager.

He showed he was passionate about the
education question he asked, saying: “People are being crammed with knowledge
that will go directly towards their examinations but won’t equip you for later
life or society. It’s all about getting good grades and writing what the
examiner will like rather than what is true. It’s not a good way and that’s what
my question was about.”

And he was not particularly satisfied with
the answers he got. “They all managed to avoid it in their own way. Mr Clegg
talked about small classes, Mr Brown about higher achievement – which was what I
was complaining about – while Mr Cameron attacked
bureaucracy.”

He agreed with the general consensus that Mr
Clegg “was the most impressive”.

Joel sprang to fame during the edition of
Question Time in October last year when BNP leader Nick Griffin was on the
panel. He challenged Mr Griffin about his history of Holocaust denial. Mr
Griffin claimed he had changed his mind about it but European law prevented him
from saying why.

“That was actually more nerve-wracking
because I was asked to speak as a point from the audience. This time I had the
question on paper in front of me,” he said. “However, it is very nerve-wracking
to have a camera pointed in your face. Sat least I wasn’t standing up there for
90 minutes.”

Joel said he did have a party allegiance but
did not want to reveal which one he supported. “I can’t go out canvassing
because I have exams coming up,” he said.

He is planning to study history at university
but doesn’t want to be an MP. “I might want to work in some political realm
behind the scenes, maybe as a diplomat, but I have plenty of time to think about
it.”

His first thought, though, was another
appearance on television – an interview on BBC
London.

 

    Last updated: 5:20pm, April 16 2010