Baby Of The House: Lord Taylor And Pamela Nash
Young MPs given the unofficial title of “Baby of the House” can find it both a blessing and a curse. Former Liberal Democrat MP Lord Taylor of Goss Moor and former Labour MP Pamela Nash recount their experiences.
John Johnston (JJ): How did it feel coming into the House as the youngest MP?
Pamela Nash (PN): When I came in, in 2010, there had been a huge turnover and there were a lot of younger MPs, so I certainly didn’t feel like I was an anomaly in being there in my 20s. It was a largely positive experience, especially with colleagues. We hear so much negativity about the Commons and about bullying and sexism and other isms. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but my experience was extremely positive, particularly being a young woman. People were just delighted I was there and had made it. It was slightly more difficult in my constituency during the election, where everyone would assume my 60-year-old white male election agent was the candidate. When they heard it was me, they would ask: “Are you sure?”
But actually, people were really positive once they got over the initial surprise of that.
Lord (Matthew) Taylor of Goss Moor (MT): I arrived [following a by-election] on Budget Day to be introduced just before the statement. The House was full from Prime Minister’s Questions, and they were meant to go [straight] into the Budget and it was held up to introduce a 24-year old Liberal new MP. There were 18 of us [Liberal MPs], there [are] no friends in the House and we are holding this up. [Former Labour MP for Bolsover] Dennis Skinner made one of his famous interventions: “Where did you find him, the youth training scheme?” That got a big laugh and that was [my] experience of going in.
I came in as a successor to a [well known] local MP and I wanted to be a person in my own right, and the way to do that was just to put my head down and do it. There’s a doubt about a young MP, so my response to that was to work stupidly hard. I went up and down on the sleeper seven days a week because I thought I couldn’t miss anything, either in Parliament or in my constituency. That was my reaction to it, and it was quite good because it built a base.
JJ: Was there a pressure to conform when the average age of other MPs was double your own?
MT: I had no ambition to be middle-aged at 24. If I had been really courageous, I would have [behaved] younger in Parliament. You’ve got to be suited and tied, and you’ve got all these procedures. I wasn’t going to start by being rebellious about all that, but I would love for people to come in and just say, “There is a lot of nonsense in here.” But British politics is like that, with so many pinstripe suits, and with the present Leader of the House [Jacob Rees-Mogg], I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon.
PN: I remember the whip taking me aside and saying, “You can’t go to Ibiza anymore, watch who you are dating,” and all this stuff. But I said, I still needed to have a life, otherwise this is not going to be worth it. And I don’t think [behaving like a young person] damages my ability to represent my constituents.
I still had enjoyment, but there was a bit of paranoia. As soon as I got selected, I phoned everyone I could think of and said any pictures of me with a drink in my hand had to come off social media, not because that is bad, but because if the Daily Mail wants to do a bad story, that is the picture they are going to dig out.
You mentioned clothing, Matthew, and I think that is a really good symbolic thing. As a woman, you don’t have that uniform of a suit, you have to decide what you are going to wear, and it’s a constant debate for a young woman. You want to look respectable, and you want people to take you seriously, but you don’t want to look frumpy either when you are a 25-year-old.
JJ: Nadia Whittome, the current “Baby of the House,” has described the term as being a bit “infantilising,” do you agree?
PN: No, no, I didn’t know that, and it makes me really sad to hear that. That’s just what the term is, for goodness’ sake, it’s just a recognition you’ve just achieved something at a young age. People are saying you managed to become an MP at such a young age, and I never had any negativity around that at all apart from some small and hilarious exceptions.
When I did have any negativity, I would say to people that it wouldn’t work if we had 650 25-year-olds running the place, but it also doesn’t work if we have 650 60-years-olds running the country. [Parliament] should be reflective of the country’s populations and it’s getting much closer to that now.
MT: I didn’t like it, personally. I found it unhelpful and stereotyping. After I’d been there 10 years I was still the youngest MP, but in the second term, people assumed that someone else must have been elected younger. I found the baby term tended to not be used in a positive way.
PN: That definitely wasn’t my experience, but I appreciate how you would have felt.
MT: It was a somewhat different Parliament in 1987. The front bench was Norman Tebbit, Margaret Thatcher and Cecil Parkinson, so it was a different era.
JJ: But it must have helped boost your profile?
MT: Yes, and I was one of those active in a small party that had a large share of the vote, so at the time I was a regular on Any Questions, Question Time and the Today programme. In due course I was made a party spokesperson, but I got a profile for being the youngest MP.
PN: I didn’t have as much [attention] as Matthew because there was a much bigger pool in the Labour Party, but I was regularly invited onto political programmes as the youngest MP. I remember within a couple of weeks of being elected being asked to go on the Daily Politics with Andrew Neil. One of the debates of that time was the generational gap. So they had me on with [veteran Conservative MP] Bill Cash, and it was “Cash vs. Nash.” I remember the graphics were of a boxing ring with red vs blue. It was all very dramatic.
There were a few [media events] like that around being the youngest MP, but also nice opportunities, like being involved with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations at the time.
Because they couldn’t invite everyone, they took the youngest and the oldest. Being able to represent the House and my colleagues as the youngest MP was an honour.
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