He looks younger than my daughter, I thought, as I stood in front of him and dropped my trousers and pants. But he was ably qualified to assess the inguinal hernia that had taken me to the clinic that afternoon. So I tried not to think about his relative youth, but instead focus on the possibility of needing surgery. When I got home, Google revealed that as well as being a surgical registrar, he teaches medical students at Norwich Medical School. Clearly my genitals had been in good hands.
Just as hernias have a habit of marking one’s transition into retirement, so too does the realisation that people of our children’s generation are often better qualified than our own to help us make potentially life-changing decisions. This I think is true in medicine, commerce and the criminal justice system. So why the media furore when Boris Johnson’s parting gifts included life peerages for 31-year-old Ross Kempsell and 30-year-old Charlotte Owen, both members of the inner circle of Downing Street advisors?
Skin in the game
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that if we do not curb our carbon emissions quickly, irreversible climate change will make extreme weather events, famines, pandemics and mass migration to more temperate countries common by the end of this century. Surely it makes sense to have public policymakers who will still be alive in the final decades of this century, rather than leave the tough decisions that have to be made now to people who will be long dead before the consequences of ignoring the threat becomes a reality?
There is nothing new about young people being elected to Westminster, although of course Kempsall and Owen were not elected, but gifted their seats in our upper house. But setting that aside, why should we not have young people in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords? Young politicians are free of the inhibitions that come with decades of lived experience; they’ve not seen it all before, so enthusiastically approach challenges with fresh, open minds. Furthermore young politicians will relate more readily to younger voters.
Balancing tradition and relevance
William Pitt was just 24 years old when elected Prime Minister in 1783, and more recently, Tony Benn, Roy Jenkins, David Steel and Charles Kennedy were all in their mid-20s when first elected. Just last month 25-year-old Keir Mather won the recent Selby and Ainsty by-election, I hope encouraging other young people to stand for election. Of course first they have to be selected, and I suspect constituency party selection committees are mostly made up of old men who will be inclined to choose a candidate from their own generation, rather than someone decades younger they find it harder to relate to.
As with so many long-established institutions, our parliament wrestles with the need to balance tradition with the need to be relevant in the contemporary world. Politics is no longer the sole preserve of landed country gentlemen, although sometimes you might think so. There is greater transparency these days, and you can see online how your MP voted, almost before she or he has left the lobby. The innate respect the population once had for their elected members has been lost, and being elected means risking vilification on social media and sometimes attacked in the street, or worse.
A pool of young talent
I wonder if one way to encourage more young people to stand for election as MPs is to actively recruit candidates from district and county councils, most of which have a cohort of talented young members. Norfolk and Suffolk has a good number. Can we start here?
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