27 June 2016
Politics across the generations
The oldest MP in Britain is more than four times the age of the youngest. When Mhairi Black won her seat in Paisley and Renfrewshire South in 2015, the political commentators went rooting through the archives to work out whether she was the youngest ever MP. Certainly no one younger has been an MP since 1832, and her candidacy was only possible since a change in 2006 allowing 18 to 21-year-olds to run for parliament.
Politics affects people of every generation, so we took the chance to talk to a few politicians of different ages to hear about their experiences and political priorities.
Fiona Bruce was first elected to parliament in 2010 after a successful career setting up and running a law firm in Warrington. Her time is now devoted to her work as an MP. She told idea: "I came into politics in my early to mid-40s, I had two children and I looked at the world they were growing up in and I felt that it could be better. We have a choice, we can stand on the side-lines or we can get involved and try to make a difference, so I thought I would get involved."
Bruce went on to comment on her motivation to get involved in politics: "As I practised law, there were laws that I felt could be fairer. There's a huge amount of family breakdown in this country and I believe that government should invest more in strengthening family life, so helping young people when they start off together, or having children, to understand the skills that are needed to have a strong and long-lasting family life – to have parenting skills, because many families as I saw as a lawyer don't have good role models now, they perhaps haven't had a strong family life that they have grown up in."
New to elected politics this year is Kate Forbes, who this spring became the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch. Despite only being 26, Forbes has almost a decade of political experience behind her, beginning with delivering leaflets for the SNP when she was 17. When asked about her proudest political achievement to date, she didn't hesitate but responded with her recent success: "Winning my first election with a 9,000 majority!"
As she gets settled into Holyrood, Forbes told idea that her priorities would be focused on "anything to make the Highlands thrive, particularly, reliable broadband to every home and business and upgraded trunk roads in the Highlands."
Another young entrant into politics was Godfrey Olsen, who first ran for election to the local council when he was just 22, in 1952. Olsen explained what happened next: "In 1955 I was offered a seat to represent Chandler's Ford, the ward in which I lived. I was 25 and continued to represent the people of Chandler's Ford throughout my service on Eastleigh Borough Council. After 61 years I decided this year not to seek election. For most of my time on the Borough Council I served as Conservative group leader, and served in many different roles including Mayor and Leader of the Council."
With such a lengthy period of service, Olsen looks back with some pride at some of his accomplishments: "Among the achievements that gave me pleasure and satisfaction was opposing a plan to demolish up to 1,000 houses in the Eastleigh town centre and instead give owners money by way of improvement grants, so that they could bring houses built in the late 1800s up to modern standards."
Fiona Bruce also suggested a couple of achievements from her time so far in parliament that she was proud to have been involved in: "One of the things I'd seen as a lawyer was the problem that unmanageable debt caused to individuals and families. I felt that if they had a better understanding of how to manage their money through education earlier on in life they wouldn't have got into some of the problems that they had. During the last Parliament, after I first entered it in 2010, I spent many years looking with a group of other MPs at how this issue could be addressed, holding meetings with experts, with organisations who deliver financial education in schools – many of them voluntarily – and then we wrote a substantial recommendation to government. In the autumn of 2014 it was made part of the school curriculum that every child in our education system would have financial education as part of their school life.
"In this parliament, championing life and protecting the vulnerable at the beginning and end of life, and in particular defeating the assisted suicide bill was something that I will always look back on as a great privilege to have been involved with."