This month in our feature Bremainers Ask, we talk to EU Supergirl Madeleina Kay. Maddy is a writer, illustrator and political activist from Sheffield and is Young European of the Year 2018, awarded by the European Parliament and the Schwarzkopf Foundation .
Maddy has been interviewed on television and radio on programmes such as Daily Politics, Channel 4 News, Question Time and Any Questions. She also wrote and illustrated “Theresa Maybe in Brexitland”. She takes an active role in campaigning and produces artwork for multiple Remain projects, including Bremain in Spain (see pic below). Maddy can often be seen campaigning with Alba White Wolf, her white German Shepherd.
Barbara Leonard: Why do you think so many young people are not politically active?
Madeleina Kay: This is something that I speak about a lot and I do get some stick for criticising the apathy of young people. But I find it incredibly frustrating that my peer group are so disengaged from the political debate and unconcerned about the impact of Brexit on their future. I have seen some promising shift in attitudes recently, there has definitely been more young people turning up to marches and events or sending me messages and engaging online. I 100% support other grassroots youth activists who campaign along side me, but it is sadly my experience that the majority of people who are campaigning against Brexit are older people who are doing so on behalf of their children and grand-children.
It was one of the reasons why I chose to drop out of University to campaign full time. Because there weren’t any youth activists or voices being heard and because I felt very isolated amongst my peer group at university. I would come to classes and be talking about the latest developments in the Brexit saga and they would be talking about who threw up in whose toilet the night before.
There are many reasons why we see this trend in participation in the political debate. I think it all stems from a lack of political education in our schools – people don’t engage with things they don’t understand. And the level of knowledge about UK politics, never mind EU politics is abysmal. I believe quite passionately that we should have compulsory civic education that teaches people about how to be good citizens and active participants in democracy. I also think giving votes to 16-17 year olds is the best way to engage people in the political debate from a young age and hopefully set the precedent for life-long participation in our democracy.
Other ways to engage young people would be to widen the range of voices on UK media, our political narrative is dominated by pale, male and stale career politicians who fail to represent the diversity of British society. People are bored to death of listening to them and many just switch off to any news on Brexit. But politics is fascinating, and highly dramatic (the current state of British politics is like a soap opera!) if we can make the debate more engaging through how it is communicated, we will widen the audience for the messages we are trying to share. I think comedy, humour, satire, music, protest songs, cartoons, badges and stickers are all great, alternative ways of engaging people’s attention and sharing our message. The “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers are especially popular with the youth at music festivals.
Pat Kennedy: How do you think your incredible journey in the fight against
Brexit may have changed your future plans?
Madeleina Kay: The UK’s vote to leave the EU has been a life changing experience for many people across our continent.
Brexit affects all of us in the EU by stripping away our rights, damaging our future opportunities and devastating the economic and social prosperity of our country.
For me personally, the last 2 and a half years has been an unimaginable roller coaster of an experience, emotionally and physically exhausting, whilst also being exciting, dramatic and deeply fulfilling. I have learned a lot as an activist over their period – nobody ever taught me how to be a political campaigner – but I’ve figured it out as I go along, analysing and responding to what has been successful and wasn’t hasn’t. I was always very good at “self learning” as a student – less so at doing what I am told! I am also conscience I have improved as an artist, writer and performer – They say “practice makes perfect” – but the experiences and opportunities I have had, and the work I have put in myself shows in the quality of my illustrations and performances now compared to when I first started.
I am proud of everything I have achieved and incredibly grateful to all the people who have supported me along the way. As someone that has always been a fairly solitary character, this journey has taught me the power of people and communities to come together, speak out for what they believe in, love and support each other and achieve great things.
Michael Frederick Phillips: Where do you see your future, Maddy – Illustrator, Teacher, Musician, Politician or something else?
Madeleina Kay: I get asked this question quite regularly. A lot of people assume that my campaign is purely about stopping Brexit and come March 29th that will be the end of “EU super girl” and I will go back to my life before as a Landscape Architecture student.
But the reality is my activism is much bigger than just Brexit, I want to address the fundamental issue of Euroscepticism and populism that has resulted in Brexit, that also threatens member states across the EU. The EU continues regardless of what happens with Brexit and I am very keen to work with pan European campaigns to improve participation in European democracy (especially youth turn out for the 2019 May parliamentary elections), to promote European values, history and culture, to improve education and understanding of the European parliament and, if need be, to lead the campaign to take the UK back into the EU (in the horrific instance that Brexit occurs).
I also campaign on a variety of other issues, one of my children’s books is about refugees and I go into Primary schools to give assemblies; another book is about the ‘Save Our Trees’ campaign in Sheffield; I am also heading a vegetarian/vegan food labelling ECI; My work as an activist will not cease with Brexit. And in that capacity I hope to continue to utilise my skills as an artist, a musician and a writer. For me, creativity is a means of exploring, engaging and communicating ideas, and as long as we have an imperfect world there will be battles to fight.
Alastair Stewart: Why do you think the government are so reluctant to hold a second referendum?
Madeleina Kay: Brexit originated in the Conservative party, they have manufactured the crisis we are currently suffering, it is a symptom of the internal dispute within their party.
David Cameron thought that holding a referendum on EU membership would solve the dispute, instead he has unleashed untold evils and furthered divisions within his party and the UK as a whole.
Theresa May’s government are now bound by the outcome of that vote because they promised to deliver on the result of the referendum, even against the national interests. If the Conservative government deliver a People’s Vote, particularly one that turned a Remain result, the fury and vitriol within their own party would reach boiling point, the rabid Eurosceptics would see their victory thwarted and they will never accept that. I think it is just a sad but recurring instance of the Tories putting party before country. Personally I think we will only achieve a people’s vote if we shift the Labour party’s position. If Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru & Green parties back a people’s vote, we only require a handful of principled Tory MPs to rebel and we’ve achieved the means of changing the course of history for the better and getting our country back from the brink of this disaster.
The Chipper Family
Archie Chipper (age 10, almost 11): Does Alba White Wolf enjoy going on anti-Brexit marches?
This is a very good question because Alba White Wolf doesn’t have a choice – it’s me, or my Dad that decides whether she goes out campaigning! So its our responsibility to make sure she is happy and safe. Lots of people ask whether she minds wearing the costumes, because I often put a t-shirt, bandana or a silly collar on her – but she doesn’t mind that at all! She’s lets me put it on her without complaint and she never pulls it when we are out. However, Alba White Wolf is very anxious because she is a rescue dog. We got her when she was 6 months old, she had been born on a puppy farm, so she wasn’t socialised properly and she was very traumatised. She is now 3 years old and she is much calmer than she was, but she still gets stressed out by other dogs and tired easily at the marches – But my Dad gets tired easily so he usually takes her home for a nap when they’ve both had enough! I’ve actually had to stop taking her with me so often, because it is very difficult travelling with a dog; trying to find pet friendly hotels, restaurants, most event venues won’t allow dogs in, I can’t take her on the London Underground because you have to carry dogs on the escalators, I also stay with lots of different people and they have pet cats (Alba is crazy for cats!) We took her to the Wooferendum dog march in October and she enjoyed that – she was actually better behaved when there were lots of dogs than when there is just a few – She is a White German Shepherd and she likes to round them up and lead the pack! My Dad tells me that she is always very sad and mopey when I leave her at home and she doesn’t play with her toys – So I think the answer is yes: she would rather be marching with me than left home alone!
Oscar Chipper (age 12.5): How many boyfriends have you had?
Madeleina Kay: Given that I am a super girl, you’d be disappointed to know: not very many. I’m far too busy fighting Brexit to find time for a boyfriend! In fact for the last 2 and a half years I’ve actively avoided it! But I’ve always been a bit of a “lone wolf” – and the boys I have dated have never been that nice to me – so maybe I need to learn to pick better ones?! That can be my mission after we stop Brexit! I have met some fantastic, inspiring and caring people through campaigning and made memories and friendships that will always stay with me.
At the People’s Vote March on Oct 20th, Maddy recorded this video for Archie and Oscar who were unable to get to London:
Jo-Jo Chipper: What is the most unusual public appearance you’ve been asked to do for the Remain cause?
Madeleina Kay: This is a difficult question; It depends how you define “unusual”. In terms of media appearances, the final episode of the Daily politics show, which consisted of a “Summer tea party” on a blazing hot day in June, with a mad set of cardboard cut-out politicians, interspersed with real politicians and an impersonator who were rotated in a “speed dating” style fashion, around a table with coffee mugs full of lemonade and a chocolate caterpillar cake that melted in the heat. The presenter asked us some fairly bizarre and trivial questions, like “How is the Brexit Crime fighting going?” without time to give any meaningful response. It was a suitably Alice in Wonderland level of bizarre for a tea party.
But in terms of events I have been invited to; travelling to Warsaw to speak and perform at the Schuman Foundation report on the Brexit and Remain campaigns was an amazing opportunity. Speaking at Manchester Design Festival, was a privilege that commended my achievements as an “artist” as much as a “political activist”. But my favourite grassroots events have to be the boat parties – we’ve done 2 now on the Thames – The first time I dressed as a pirate, the second as a sailor. They are so much fun, we have a great time and the videos/photos from the trips are always very strong.
Thanks to Maddy for taking part, next month we have Labour MEP Seb Dance answering your questions. You can read more about Maddy on her website here: Alba White Wolf