This week I received a letter saying I had “no experience of the real world”. It came courtesy of my Conservative opponent in South Thanet (the three-way marginal where I’m the Labour candidate) and was a reference to the fact I am – shock horror – aged 25.
Having repeatedly been referred to by the candidate in question as “the Labour boy”, reading that I had no life experience did not cause the hours of existential soul-searching it might have. But it is frustrating, as a married father of two, that opponents still try to use my age as a stick to beat me with. Imagine, for a second, a younger candidate playing the age card in reverse, by attacking a 65 year-old as “world weary and beset with health problems”. There would rightly be hell to pay!
Were I up against an ex-Archbishop or prize-winning economist then there might be pause for thought. But my two opponents are a stockbroker cum truant MEP (a certain Mr Farage) and a tax avoidance expert who has run for office nine times – including five times for Ukip before defecting to the Conservatives. “Life experience”, it would seem, can only be acquired in the corridors of high finance or the chapels of Euroscepticism.
The last few years have seen the public reject machine politics, and with it the class of career politicians who move from Oxbridge to Westminster without encountering real life. But we need to reach for a more authentic, localised politics, in the wake of the Spad era, rather than just revert to the days of pinstripes and tweed. As the faux warts ‘n’ all allure of Ukip shows, there’s a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
I should add that this is not a party political issue, and I don’t doubt there’s a young Tory candidate somewhere being demeaned by a Labour silverback. It’s about the fact that my generation has been on the sharp end of the recession, and we deserve a stake in decisions.
Rick Edwards, campaigner on this issue and author of None of the Above, points out the importance of younger candidates in reaching younger voters, saying “it helps if you can see people in power who are a bit like you”. As it is under-30s are still humoured too much and respected too little, with the result that the old-style politics of dogma persists. And while “engaging young people” may be a buzz-phrase politicians are happy to use in the media, it can ring hollow on the campaign trail.