Too young to be an MP?
With the next General Election increasingly rising to the forefront of the nation’s minds and looking less a far-flung fantasy, most constituencies have appointed their prospective parliamentary candidates. Whilst much has been made of …
With the next General Election increasingly rising to the forefront of the nation’s minds and looking less a far-flung fantasy, most constituencies have appointed their prospective parliamentary candidates. Whilst much has been made of the selection of 22-year old Georgia Gould as a potential candidate for the safe Labour seat of Erith and Thamesmead in South-East London, Ms. Gould is by no means the youngest aspiring MP in the nation. Other wannabe Members of Parliament include 20 year old Claire Hazelgrove and 18 year old Emily Benn, Labour candidates for Skipton & Ripon and East Worthing & Shoreham respectively. The appearance of all three budding politicians on the political scene, whilst not unprecedented, does raise a number of questions about age in politics in general and, specifically, on the age limit for those seeking political office.
Until the Electoral Administration Act of 2006 the minimum age limit required to become an MP was 21. However the Act lowered the limit to 18, in order to bring it in line with the voting age. This raises the question- if someone is mature enough to vote are they then automatically mature enough to serve constituents as an MP?
Many proponents of a lower age requirement for prospective politicians point to the success of notable MPs such as Bernadette Devlin, a Northern Ireland political activist elected to Westminster at 21, Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader who entered Parliament at 23 and even the youngest ever Prime Minister, William Pitt the younger, who began his first term at the tender age of 24. They state that if younger citizens can vote then they deserve to be represented.
Younger candidates and their supporters argue that if someone is determined and talented enough they should be able to stand for election whenever they want. The idea that only those over a certain age are suited to politics seems somewhat out of touch given the world’s current economic situation. Why not give younger people and new ideas a try?
However, opponents view younger candidates as lacking in real world experience, having often never held a full-time job or paid taxes, and having devoted the entirety of their young lives to politics. They claim that this lack of employment in any other sector leads to a narrow world view. They point to the precedent of other countries, notably the United States where the minimum age for a Senator is 30, and state that a young politico cannot represent or understand the issues faced by older constituents.
Conversely, equally convincing arguments can be made on either side of the argument regarding an upper age limit for MPs. Can some MPs serve for too long and become increasingly ineffective? With many older MPs holding relatively safe seats and high name-recognition in their constituencies, they can in theory carry on filling the green benches of the House of Commons well in to their dotage. Whilst fewer MPs remain in their seats well in to their later years than their American or European counterparts, at the 2005 general election 100 MPs were elected in their 60s and 14 were over 70, presumably representing thousands of constituents forced into retirement at 65.
Ultimately, whilst some may state that a budding politician may not have enough life experience, or a serving MP may be out-of-touch with the modern world, it is the voting public who have the final say and almost always subscribe to the view that, if they support what a candidate stands for and believes in, then they will vote for them. Maybe age is only a number after all.
The content of this article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views and beliefs of The Vibe.