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‘You can’t win anything with kids’

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

Gabriel Boric recently made headlines as he surged to victory in the Chilean elections with more votes than any president in the country’s history. The “millennial former student protest leader” defeated his far-right opponent in a resounding triumph not only for his left wing, reformist agenda, but for a younger generation looking to make waves at the pinnacle of politics.

At 35 years old, Boric will slot into the upper echelon of young global leaders alongside the likes of Finnish PM Sanna Marin who was only a year younger when she took office in 2019. So, are we edging closer to a thirty-something leader in the UK? Is politics trending any younger on these shores?

The short answer is no. One would be forgiven for thinking the recent modernisation of Westminster – putting smoking jackets and mid-afternoon whiskeys firmly in the past – would drive down the age of MPs. Members have actually been getting older with the average age of an elected official now 51, up from 49.6 in 1979.

Not even the 2019 influx of Blue, Brexit supporting MPs from traditionally Red Wall seats brought about change. Rookies like 24yr old Tory MP Sara Britcliffe aside, many of the class of 2019 represented a protest vote against ‘career politicians’, meaning candidates often pivoted from lengthy, established careers in sectors such as retail or education.

A look further up the food chain does not offer much more hope. If embattled PM Boris Johnson is forced to resign, his mooted replacements are all relative veterans. The youngest, Rishi Sunak, enjoyed a meteoric rise to the Chancellorship last year but this previously ascribed ‘rising star’ is now in his forties.

Looking ahead, it will be fascinating to track the impact of the pandemic on the engagement levels of younger generations in politics. Will a communal feeling of injustice that their formative years have been compromised at the expense of older generations inspire action? Or will an increased sense of disillusionment drive young people further away from Westminster?

Those with the most to gain from any youthquake in British politics are the Green Party. Stuck on the periphery of the political landscape, recent polling will offer hope to the Greens with the environment chosen as the third most important issue for UK voters.

A glance over to Germany should serve as inspiration; this year’s federal election saw The Greens emerge as the third most popular party with 15% of the vote. While considered a disappointment, the party still managed to enter a ruling coalition.

From activists to influencers, young people are already taking the lead on issues like climate change and mental health. Spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, we have witnessed the emergence of a new generation of young environmentalists on the global stage – which begs the question, why can’t the next level of cut through be at the top table of British politics?


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