UK Politics

Young, ambitious - and at a hustings near you

If youth is wasted on the young; is politics just the preserve of the old? Not a bit of it.

Parliament Week is a programme of events and activities that aims to connect young people with parliamentary democracy in the UK. And, as you can see, contrary to the stereotype of Parliament, it's not just the old and experienced who can make an impact in politics.

1. Teenagers can be MPs

There's nothing stopping teenagers standing for Parliament. The age of candidacy for Parliament was lowered from 21 to 18 by the Electoral Administration Act of 2006.

In fact, Labour has selected 19-year-old university student Ollie Middleton to stand for Parliament in 2015. Mr Middleton, who was only two years old when Tony Blair swept in to power in 1997, will contest his home city of Bath, where incumbent Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, 67, has majority 12,000.

Mr Middleton, who will be 20 by the time voters in Bath go to the polls, is currently studying politics and international relations at the University of Westminster.

Image copyright Gus Campbell Photography
Image caption Ollie Middleton is standing to be Labour MP in Bath

2. There have been at least seven 21-year-old MPs

Before the change in the law there were at least seven MPs elected at the age of 21, during the period we can verify.

There is some debate over who was the youngest MP ever to take their seat in the House of Commons. One potential record holder is James Dickson, who was elected as Liberal MP for Dungannon - like his father before him - during a by-election in April 1880. The exact date of his birth, however, is something of a mystery. Several sources claim conflicting dates, putting him anywhere between 21 years and two months and 30 years old when he was elected.

The youngest female MP is somewhat clearer. Bernadette Devlin, the fiery and controversial civil rights activist, was 21 years 11 months 25 days old when she was elected to Parliament to represent the Northern Irish constituency of Mid Ulster in 1969.

She sat in Parliament for five years as an Independent Socialist and during her brief career in mainstream politics served a short jail term for incitement to riot and earned a temporary suspension from Parliament after punching Home Secretary Reggie Maudling, who she blamed for denying her a chance to speak on the Bloody Sunday Massacres, despite personally witnessing it.

Image caption Bernadette Devlin had a brief tenure as MP for Mid Ulster in the early 1970s.

3. Pamela Nash, the current youngest MP, entered the House of Commons at 25

The youngest MP in the House of Commons is called the 'Baby of the House'; a title currently held by Pamela Nash who was 25 years and 11 months at the 2010 general election - roughly half the age of the average MP at the last election.

Ms Nash, who is Labour MP for the Airdrie and Shotts constituency, was the former parliamentary researcher for the man she has replaced, John Reid.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Pamela Nash is the current 'Baby of the House'.

4. There has never been a Baby of the House older than 29

For the period we have records for, this is true. This means, there's always been at least one MP in their twenties at the start of each Parliament.

The oldest Baby at first election, Sarah Teather, was elected in a by-election in 2003 aged 29 years 109 days.

The title Baby of House carries no special responsibilities - unlike the title Father of the House given to the longest serving MP - and many consider it embarrassing, suggesting a lack of experience. But many title holders have gone on to fame and infamy including: Tony Benn, Roy Jenkins, John Profumo, David Steel and Bobby Sands.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sarah Teather inflicted Labour's first loss of a Commons seat in a by-election for 15 years to become 'Baby of the House'.

5. Lords can be as young as 21

As you may expect in the House of Lords - where the average age is 70 - there are slightly higher barriers to entry than those young striplings in the Commons. A 1685 mandate states peers must be at least "one and twenty years" before they have gained the requisite experience to become a peer of the realm.

This has meant that, over the years, dozens of 21-year-old hereditary peers have joined the upper chamber after inheriting their title at a young age. Those who have succeeded as minors - and so cannot take their place in the chamber - are allowed to attend debates on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords.

The current record holder for youngest ever life peer is Lord Redesdale who was just 32 when he joined the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords in 2000. Meanwhile the youngest current peer is Lord (Nathanael) Wei, a founder of Teach First, who was 33 when he became a peer in 2010.

Image copyright Steve Maisey/UPPA
Image caption Lord Redesdale, the youngest ever life peer, seen here in 2009 aged 42 still 30 years younger than the average peer.

6. The youngest ever prime minister was 24

William Pitt the Younger was appointed as prime minister on 19 December 1783 at the age of 24 years six months and 24 days, making him Britain's youngest ever PM. Mr Pitt didn't have the most illustrious start to his career. When it was announced that the young Tory had accepted the King's invitation to form a government, the House of Commons broke into derisive laughter.

But against early predictions, Pitt's ministry survived for 17 years and his popularity rose steadily; and today he is considered to be one of Britain's greatest ever statesmen. Pitt the Younger is best known for leading Britain during the Napoleonic wars - during which he introduced Great Britain's first ever income tax, and implementing the Acts of Union 1800 which formally joined Great Britain (England and Scotland) and Ireland under the name of the United Kingdom.

Pitt also holds the record for being the shortest period between entering Parliament and being appointed prime minister - a journey he made in only two years.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption William Pitt the Younger is widely considered to be one of Britain's greatest ever statesmen.

But beware: youth is no protection against ending up on the scrap heap

The superbly named Augustus Henry Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, was a contemporary of William Pitt the Elder -the previous William Pitt's father - and a prominent figure of the period. He ascended to office at the tender age of 32.

However the Duke of Grafton was largely considered to be a timid and ineffective politician and resigned as prime minister in 1770 at the age of 34 after leading a ministry marred by political differences and attacks from the press.

In his later life, the Duke of Grafton held the job of Lord Privy Seal - a role that requires little responsibility, labour, or active service - in the ministries of three other prime ministers.