I think I’ve arrived at a new definition of “ageing” and it’s this: you know you’re getting on a bit when you’re closer in age to the leader (43) of a political party than you are to the newest elected member (27) of that party – and particularly so when said new MP becomes the new “Baby of the House”.
So, welcome to the world of Westminster politics, Chloe Smith. Aged 27, you are a woman who carries a number of firsts on your slim shoulders: the first new MP to be elected post the recent expenses scandal and, indeed, as a direct result of said scandal; the first Tory to take a seat from Labour in a by-election for 27 years.
Tory leader David Cameron commented that the result shows that “people want change in our country” – but is Chloe Smith the face of that change or simply a representative (or even, a victim) of tactical voting?
And Labour leader Gordon Brown noted that: “The voters were clearly torn between their anger and dismay at what’s been happening with MPs’ expenses, something we have been trying to clean up – and, at the same time, support for the former MP, the Labour MP Ian Gibson, who was very popular.”
As mentioned before, the Downing Street Project (DSP) was launched at the House of Commons last month, at an event which was hosted by Jo Swinson, the then Baby of the House and a Liberal Democrat MP since the age of 25. I love this photo, taken by Julie Gilbert, founder of WOLF and one of the amazing women who are involved with the DSP – her caption was “… the shadows of the next generation of female leaders”.
So, in that context, it seems obvious to me that Chloe Smith, notwithstanding her obvious talents and commitment to the political cause as evidenced by her career path to date, must have been selected in part because she is the anti-Ian Gibson; she is young (27 years old against his 60); a woman; a brand new politician, untainted by the behaviours and associations of the past. She is and has a clean slate.
There are said to be c. 200 MPs standing down at the next election, currently scheduled to occur in June 2010. As a result of the expenses mess, the lists of approved candidates, which had been closed, have been re-opened and the DSP team are hoping to use this as an opportunity to both persuade more women, perhaps more Chloe Smiths, to stand and to be a new type of political representative. David Cameron and co seem to have recognised this as an opportunity ahead of the Labour party; I think I read or possibly heard somewhere that Cameron made six constituency visits in the run up to polling day, which is an incredible amount of top down support for Ms Smith – and it remains to be seen in the coming months if all the parties will get on board with the concept of “out with the old, in with the new”.
The DSP is primarily, I think, not about women per se but about framing a new type of leadership in which women should be playing a vital and enhanced role; let’s hope that Chloe Smith is the first one of those women and that she manages to retain her seat at the 2010 election. How brave, in reality, are the Norwich North electorate?