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Parliament needs more young MPs

(Alamy)

4 min read

With a new Baby of the House following the recent Selby and Ainsty by-election, the question of the appropriate age to become an MP has reared its head again.

Ever since I was elected in 2019 aged 23, it's been a discussion that has followed me around, sometimes dressed up in patronising euphemisms of the need for MPs to have “real-life experience”. I don’t disagree that having MPs who have been through various experiences is important; what I reject is the idea that young people do not have relevant life experience purely because of our age.

We’ve grown up under austerity, we’ve paid £9,000 a year in tuition fees, now my generation must contend with high rents and low pay

All MPs have their own experiences that they bring with them into Parliament, that may have influenced their politics or given them particular passions, knowledge or skills. But the make-up of the House of Commons doesn’t reflect that of society. The average age of an MP is around 50-years-old – 10 years older than that of the general population, for example – while just three per cent of those elected in 2019 were under 30. Parliament’s skew towards those who are older, richer and from privately-educated backgrounds means that many groups and their experiences are underrepresented.

As a result, many people my age have been through experiences that few MPs have had to deal with first-hand. Our lives have been defined by insecurity: we’ve grown up under austerity, we’ve paid £9,000 a year in tuition fees, now my generation must contend with high rents and low pay while being shunted from place to place at the whim of landlords or forced to continue to live at home with family. These experiences haven’t come out of nowhere – they are the result of political decisions, and they deserve to be represented too.

With our futures still stretching far ahead of us, many of us also feel keenly what is at stake if we fail to tackle the huge crises we face. Environmental collapse could occur within our lifetimes, while widening inequality and falling real-terms wages threaten our living standards for decades to come. It is perhaps for this reason that we tend to favour more radical systemic change and that young people around the world are creating shockwaves in politics: from Greta Thunberg and the school strikers forcing world leaders to confront the climate emergency, to United States congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leading the charge for progressive policies across the pond.  

What is clear is that young people are not the only ones that stand to benefit in many areas if the government were to legislate in our interests. For example, young people winning renters’ reform would also benefit everyone living in private sector housing. A higher minimum wage would lift the incomes of older low-paid workers as well as younger ones, while prioritising the climate crisis has the potential to not only give our generation a more secure future but also stop millions of deaths in the Global South.

Young MPs using their experiences and ideas to pursue these changes could have a positive impact on a range of groups, particularly those that are currently marginalised.

Of course, none of this is to say that every young MP is likely to devote their time to pushing for youth-centred policies – our politics and priorities are defined by far more than just our age or any other characteristic. But when a survey last year found that 18-24 year-olds were the least likely of any age group to say that democracy serves them well, it is clear that young people are not currently getting the representation they deserve.

We badly need more MPs to fight for young people’s interests in Westminster – and who better to do it than young people ourselves.

 

Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East and former baby of the House 

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Read the most recent article written by Nadia Whittome MP - The answer is a Green New Deal

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