Talkin’ ’bout my generation
How many U30s will make it into the Commons next time?
I’ve been following the selection process for a Labour candidate in the safe seat of Erith & Thamesmead with some interest for the last couple of weeks. For those unfamiliar, there are eight candidates (all female) competing, and the battle-lines have been drawn between the union-supported candidate (Rachel Maskell) who has the backing of Charlie Whelan, and Georgia Gould, the daughter of Lord Gould (Phillip) who was the pollster for Tony Blair. The latter has been brought to national attention for enjoying the backing of the likes of Alistair Campbell and Tessa Jowell.
I must confess to being caught in something of a bind about this process, designed to choose a successor MP (in all likelihood) to the retiring incumbant,
Ian John Austin. Whether or not the accusation has merit, there is no doubt that Miss Gould has been damaged by suggestions of nepotism that would have been distinctly diminished had she been somewhat older and more experienced in anything but having studied at Oxford. That said, the focus has been not only on her parentage and connections within the New Labour machine, but upon her age, and in spite of my revulsion at even the appearance of nepotism, I find myself strangely sympathetic to her plight.
I accept and appreciate the arguments against ‘young’ candidates – by which I mean those aged between 18 and 30 years of age. Whilst tipping my hat to the extraordinary achievement of William Pitt the Younger, I do not believe that (generally-speaking) someone within that age bracket is qualified for front-bench office let alone on the government benches, and can accept that to have a significant minority of the House of Commons lacking the wisdom (that is magically bestowed at the age of thirty) might be inadvisable.
That said, I dislike and reject the tenor of the arguments that are raised any time a candidate under the age of thirty is nominated – arguments familiar to anyone who frequents activist websites such as ConservativeHome, where candidates young and old are announced. There is an established chorus of objectionists who will decry the lack of ‘life experience’ and ‘maturity of judgement’ of the under-30s, and who will claim that such candidates ‘have never done anything with their lives’ and should ‘come back in ten years, when they’ve learnt something’. I’m not impressed and I’m not convinced.
With the caveats that I think it would be a mistake to have all but the most brilliant of U30s on the front bench, and that I would be concerned if they comprised more than (say) 20% of the House of Commons, I am of the opinion that there is a dire need for both fresh blood and some genuine representation of a generation of adults who see the world very differently from the generations of their fathers and grandfathers.
Those aged, like myself, between 18 and 30 years of age are in the full maturity of their faculties and are adjudged by the State to be capable of all adult decisions – from marriage to mortgages to military service on the front line. My generation has been the long-suffering party to student top-up fees, impossible house prices, poor employment prospects, massive mandated debt, and will inherit all the mistakes of generations deemed to be our betters in matters of governmental wisdom.
The under 30s (being largely single without children) work the longest hours of any comparable demographic outside of the US, pay the highest levels of irredeemable taxation, and draw the least benefit from money spent by government on healthcare and FT education. My generation has had a fairly poor deal from government for as long as I can remember, and something sticks in the throat about being told that we should not be allowed to stand for winnable seats on account of date of birth, in spite of the law allowing representation from the age of 18.
I do not claim that Parliament would be dramatically improved by the introduction of newer, younger blood – however, I like to think that some cogniscence of what it means to belong to a portion of the adult population that is so chronically under-represented in Parliament (there are only 3 MPs, to the best of my knowledge, under 30 years of age) might have led to some degree of restraint in the measures that have been taken to make my generation more indebted and with more challenging prospects than those faced by generations previous.
Parliament would not collapse were there to be 15-20% of MPs under the age of thirty – indeed, it might provide some perspective for those MPs who have no understanding of what it means to grow up in the last 20 years. MPs, by-and-large did not grow up with the internet, or access to credit facilities, or the burden of being expected to work nearly full-time through their degrees. To understand the pressures on a huge swathe of the adult voting population requires people who have shared in that experience – a peculiarity of experience almost totally lacking in the Commons at present. I can understand some reticence towards younger candidates (though it is not as though the life experience garnered by their elders has served my generation particularly well), but I dislike the antipathy that surrounds such candidates for having the temerity to be young.
I suspect there are many complex arguments as to why some Labour members of Erith & Thamesmead might not want 22-year-old Georgia Gould to inherit that seat as their MP, but of all the strikes against her, I don’t believe that her age should the most significant detraction.
I’ve recently been in touch with representatives of all the major parties, seeking data and contact details for candidates under the age of 30 who are contesting ‘winnable’ seats. This is partly to showcase the talent of a political generation who have yet to emerge, but also to kick-start the PB.com parlour-game of ‘pick the potential future PM’ – it is often said that the next-Prime-Minister-but-one might not yet even be an MP, so this could be the chance for our insightful regulars to match Mike Smithson in selecting a winner at odds of greater than 50-1. I’ll hopefully be running such a piece in the next week or so (a promise to add to that of an article on three-way marginals).
As always, the views of the PB.com community are more than welcome. Happy Saturday.
Morus (aged 25-and-a-half)
(Photo from article by Kevin List at scoop.co.nz)