Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Georgia Gould is too young to be an MP

There have been some shenanigans going on with the selection for Labour's candidate in the fairly safe seat of Erith and Thamesmead in south-east London. After tampering with a ballot box and allegations flying around, the process has been suspended.

One of the candidates to become the PPC is Georgia Gould who is the 22 year old daughter of Philip Gould, Tony Blair's longstanding pollster. There are quotes from local activists that they feel the process is being stitched up in her favour by the central party.

I don't particularly want to dwell on the ins and outs of this selection process. However I do feel that 22 or 23 is just too young to become an MP. When you are that young you have very little experience of life or business or, "the real world". Assuming you went to university, you have only just graduated and are just starting to make your way. It would be far better to go and get several years experience of real life before trying to become an MP.

Of course Georgia Gould is not an ordinary 22 year old given who her father is and she is likely to have been exposed to politics from a very young age. However, the fact that she is a serious candidate for this fairly safe Labour seat at such a young age is part of the problem we have with politics at the moment. She is clearly part of the political classes and the attempt to parachute her into this seat is symptomatic of a broken system. Why are Labour so keen to get her into parliament? Is she likely to be a strong independent voice who sticks up for her constituents, or is she likely to be lobby fodder who will do what she is told by the party leadersip in the hope of becoming a (perhaps the youngest ever) cabinet or shadow cabinet minister at some point?

My advice to Georgia is to get some real world experience and come back in 5 or 10 years time with that under your belt, and then try to get selected under your own steam, not by getting the party hierarchy to smooth the way for you. You will be a better politician and will be much more respected for doing it this way.


Stephen Glenn said...

Say the Parliament goes full term she will be 23. The same age as Charles Kennedy when he was first elected and two years younger than Jo Swinson was in 2005 when contesting he second Westminster election.

Mark Thompson said...

Yep. I am not here to defend Charles Kennedy or Jo Swinson. Julia Goldsworthy was also very young when she entered parliament. As were William Hague and Stephen Dorrell. I think it is true for all politicians and parties that candidates should have some life experience before entering parliament.

I actually think that a minimum age before you could become an MP such as 30 would be a good idea. There is a similar age restriction for US Senators (see here).

Stephen Glenn said...

Mark you need to compare like with like the Senate is the Upper House in Congress the age restriction is 25. I disagree however. No longer is it that automatically upon reaching the age of 21 are sons of herititary peers given the family seat those who do stand this young are few and bring a different relevance to the House.

We need a House of diversity gender, race, religion and age to make decisions that affect all aspects of our people. The 20 somethings have for many decades been few and far between but they have largely earned their place on merit. The exclusion of them would only only serve to distance those younger voters from the entire parliamentary process.

Mark Thompson said...

Well, to be honest I am not settled on an exact age but I certainly think it needs to be higher than it is at the moment (which I believe is 18). Maybe 25 is right, maybe higher.

I think it is unlikely that any government will legislate for this as it will be perceived as excluding as you indicate. I really feel though that 22/23 is too young to become an MP with all the responsibility that it entails. Perhaps a more realistic approach is for local constituency parties to be better empowered which would have lots of other benefits anyway. That way, it is a lot more likely that younger candidates would really need to have proved themselves rather than just be parachuted in like in this case.

Ali Goldsworthy said...

Experience and skills are very different to age. Being young can have its advantages too, it tends to involve brining fresh energy and ideas in.

I don't know Georgia so I can't comment about her personally but I know plenty of cracking people who have been elected in their early twenties and done really good work.

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Ali.

You make a fair point about young people bringing fresh ideas. I certainly think having younger people active in parties is a great and vital thing and we need more. And for local elections I don't have a problem with younger people standing at all.

My concern is that 22 or 23 is very young to be taking on the responsibility of representing 70,000 people at a national level and engaging with all the responsibilities that being an MP entails.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this while searching for information relating to ageism, and this is a beautiful example. Nepotism aside, which would be my only suspicion in this case [though that is an unproven suspicion, I might add, and I would therefore be happy to gather more facts before making a judgement], this is a wonderful example of ageism. Young people cannot possibly have had any life experience - even though, as you say, she has probably been exposed to politics from a very young age. Young people cannot possibly be trusted to represent X thousand people because...oh, they just can't. Same as old people just get ill because they're old.

What a load of nonsense. Have a think before you continue to judge based off stereotypes. Even when given evidence to the contrary - which you already knew! - you insist that being young means you cannot be a good MP. This sounds exactly like those people who insist all black people are criminals, except their neighbours, and the man who runs the corner shop, and... All those MPs weren't just special exceptions, for pity's sake.

Please, I implore you, examine where these ideas that a) young people can't have had any life experience and b) young people can't be decent MPs come from.

There are many people these days [not all of whom have gone to university, which is another assumption you would do well to avoid] who have done far more in the first 20, 25 years of their lives than most people will ever do. Being 30 or older doesn't necessarily make you wiser, it just means you've been around longer. Learning from your life can occur whenever you want it to - there are no age limits.

Mark Thompson said...

Hello PIC. Thanks for your comments.

I suppose it is difficult for me to deny to some extent that what I have said is ageist. By definition it is, but that does not in itself make it wrong. I don't appreciate the parallel you try to draw with racism as I feel that I have backed up my thoughts on this with a bit more than "oh, they just can't" as you suggest. I think that in some cases, age limits on certain things are justified whereas racism never is in my view.

However, since posting this I have been doing some more thinking on it. As an instinctively liberal person (with a small l) and with further deliberation, I am a bit less keen than I was with the idea of restricting the age that people can run for parliament, so you have touched a nerve a little bit, hence the longish answer here.

One of the themes I have banged on about before is how frustrated I get with public figures and their refusal to accept they have been mistaken about something with good grace so I should be able to do that myself!

I suppose I still feel that it would in general be better if people with political aspirations waited a bit longer until they have seen a bit more of life before trying to get into parliament. However you make a fair point that the life experiences of two 22 year olds could be very different.

Another thing I have thought which nobody has mentioned in the comments is that to get a seat in parliament is very difficult and can take several attempts so even if a 22 year old starts trying now, they could easily take 10 or 15 years before they get in but if they get lucky first time then there are bound to be a few youngsters.

I also suppose that I was looking at it from the perspective of a 34 year old who, if I went to speak to my MP about something and was confronted with someone in their early twenties, I would find that quite odd. However I already have had that with GPs, Police officers and other professionals I have been in contact with so maybe that is just something I have to get over.

Anyway, I have probably droned on enough now. Thank you for making me think about this more and giving me the opportunity to revisit this after a period of reflection. One of the things I am learning about blogging is that it really makes you think about why you hold certain opinions and this is one of the few that, once I had committed it to the screen, I always felt a bit uncomfortable with.

Anonymous said...

Really glad to see that you've considered what I said. My aim is never to change other people, just to make them think. :-)

I wasn't trying to draw a parallel with racism in any way to be controversial or suggest that it is the same thing, though I can see how it could be taken that way. Also please forgive my perhaps less than courteous tone; when commenting earlier I'd spent several hours on the subject already and that does tend to make me a bit short-fused. [Not an excuse; just an explanation.]

Racism and ageism are different things, obviously, but I see them as broadly the same - the essence [and the essence of my earlier point] was that they are a judgement of someone based on a stereotype we hold about that person's group. Racism is seen by most people to be worse because there has been so much highlighting of the issue, and people have been forced to examine their beliefs in regards to 'race', but ageism hasn't been given that same consideration yet and therefore I don't think most people see it as badly. For instance, our culture's current obsession with anti-wrinkle creams and the like is a great example of ageist attitudes, because it implies that looking old, and by assocation being old is undesirable and something to be avoided. But I'd wager most people wouldn't see it as ageist because they're not actually saying anything negative about old people; yet they haven't considered the impact on self-esteem that all this might actually have on those people who are old, and clearly seen by the rest of society as 'past it'.

Er, my point there, to return from my tangent, was that I'm drawing a parallel with racism because to me racism and ageism equate to the same thing, in that they're a judgement of someone based on a stereotype, and thus equally undesirable; you may not agree, and that's fine.

I agree with you that it's better for people to have more experience before entering parliament. I completely understand where you're coming from; my only contention is of course with the idea that people are automatically disallowed from entering by their age, and nothing more. Same as I would say that most ten year olds couldn't fully appreciate Have I Got News For You, but that doesn't mean that all of them are incapable of doing so.

Your mention of finding it odd being guided, I suppose is the word, by someone younger than you is again one of the problems we tend to suffer in our culture, where we only usually mix with those of a broadly similar age, by choice. It's not necessarily an ageist view, but it's related to ageism in that I'd question why exactly you feel odd. Is is that you feel these people wouldn't be as good as someone older at doing their job - and more importantly, would you have felt that way if you had met them when you were 18, but they were still in their early twenties? I do understand where it comes from because, like I say, most people don't actively socialise with people of a very different age to themselves, and therefore aren't really sure of where they stand with others of different ages, especially when it relates to power. I'm lucky in that my job, my volunteering and my social scene are all full of people from every age and background I could wish, so I get the full experience. :-)

I wouldn't tell you to 'get over it' because I think that's about as helpful as saying it to someone with depression, but I think you'd do well to have a think about it and maybe, if you can, expose yourself more to it, so that it feels less weird?

I, too, am going to shut up now. :-)