WE parents were sitting round the table drinking red wine; the children were running amok. Playing pool and shooting with Nerf Guns; family friends for a Saturday night. The conversation turned to education; to GCSE options. ‘Citizenship! A GCSE in citizenship – what’s all that about?’

I had no idea what a GCSE in citizenship entails, but there are 650 people occupying seats in the Palace of Westminster who clearly have no clue about citizenship and seem incapable of exercising any responsibility whatsoever. Were it not so serious, it would be comical. We have a democratic system in which every issue becomes a binary proposition – for or against, the consequence of a two party, ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system. Its proponents used to say that it made for stable and decisive government, sneering at other systems with shifting and fragile coalitions resulting in backroom deals and unlikely bedfellows. Who’s laughing now? Government and stability have broken down and, faced with a nation divided down the middle over the Brexit conundrum, instead of stepping up to the plate, to a man (and woman), our politicians have abandoned responsibility and indulged in an orgy of political point-scoring, party and tribal loyalty and brinkmanship in unconscionable measure.

At the ballot box, they seek our trust, but when the country needs them to set aside self-interest and play their part in healing a divided nation through negotiation, seeking common ground, and bringing opposing factions together, they fan the flames of dissent, restate and reiterate preconceived opinions and indulge personal ambitions. Brexit has demonstrated the inadequacy of our political system and the wanton disdain of its participants.

What a contrast with our young people! In the adjacent Footnotes column, Stuart Smallwood discusses the dilemma that students’ action on climate change poses for parents and children. But one cannot but admire their passion, clarity of vision and purity of purpose. Here we are, filling up our news channels, directing the attention of our brightest and best civil servants and emptying our nation’s coffers to fine tune a European political system for short term national advantage – while the planet warms, species disappear and our children’s birthright and inheritance is stolen from them through the inactivity and complacency of their parents. Denied the opportunity to vote until they are of age (and by which time, they say, irreparable damage to the planet will have been done) they followed the example of teachers, workers and protesters throughout the ages and took to the streets.

It is a topsy turvey world where schoolchildren call on adults to act responsibly, not to be wasteful and think of others before themselves, while parents and politicians indulge in selfish, thoughtless behaviour bringing shame to the nation and making us a laughing stock around the world.