Friday, July 15, 2005
New MP, old YL
Congratulations to Mark Hunter, who has successfully defended Cheadle for the Liberal Democrats in the first by-election of this parliament.
Mark will make an excellent MP. I have known him since the late 1970s when we were both in the Young Liberals. It struck me seeing tonight's result how few of that promising YL generation ultimately made it into parliament.
The leading Young Liberals and Liberal Students of the 1970s and early 80s, now aged in their late 40s or early 50s, were the last generation before youth membership of political parties shrank dramatically. Most of those who stood for parliament did so as young candidates in the 'Alliance' years of 1983 and 1987, when the breakthrough never came.
Some eventually dropped out of active politics while others became councillors or party officers. One even became a Labour member of the Welsh Assembly.
For this generation, the trick is clearly to have first had a 'proper job' and not stand for parliament until one is middle aged. Besides Mark Hunter, the only other Liberal Democrat MPs from that youth and student activist generation are Nick Harvey, Martin Horwood, David Howarth, Paul Keetch, Paul Rowen and Richard Younger-Ross. Chris Davies and Graham Watson are now MEPs, while Liz Barker is the only one to have yet achieved a peerage.
Other Liberal Democrat MPs of a similar age were not active Liberals in their youth. Indeed, youth activism is no guarantee of a long-term political career - look at New Labour. While Jack Straw and Charles Clarke are both former NUS presidents, Tony Blair didn't even join the Labour Party until he was in his late 20s (and some might argue he never really did).
Peter Hain was active in the YLs in the late 60s and early 70s, and left around 1977.
Richard Burden (Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield) was a leading Liberal student in the mid 70s.
I think that Roger Berry (Labour MP for Kingswood) was also a Young Liberal but earlier, in the late 60s.