Age doesn’t guarantee Wisdom

The other day I found myself talking like the kind of person who I couldn’t stand when I was in my teens.

I was in Lewisham in the Green Party shop.  It was the closing stages of the election campaign.  A student volunteer had come down from Durham and was busy helping in the Greens’ attempt to get an MP elected in South East London.

We fell to talking and he bemoaned the lack of young people in parliament.  He made a comparison with newsreaders and cited the case of Moira Stewart who lost her job reading the news on TV amidst complaints, hotly denied by the BBC, of ageism.  My student friend wondered why people were worried about someone being supposedly edged out of a role in news because they were too old when there were no young people reading the news.

I have to confess I got a little snappy.  News is not the best analogy for politics and it is the field in which I work.  I am not sure how much of Moira Stuart’s background is in presentation and how much in journalism, but I suspect it’s predominantly the former and within the BBC there has been a shift to having the news presented by senior journalists and they play a key part in how the programme is put together.  The era of the non journalist presenter is fading.

News can make sure young people are well represented by offering them a platform as well as by creating programmes where younger journalists ask the questions, and there are such.  For the most part however we look to news anchors with experience.  We want them to ask the questions we would ask if we were in their seat, but with the benefit of vast knowledge and experience so they can better expose the half truths and outright lies peddled by some of those they interview.  But news is not politics.

Since our conversation I have thought about the issue of young people and parliament a great deal.

One of the points I tried to make is that I worry about the growth of a political class with no life experience.  David Cameron and Nick Clegg have spent a lot of their lives in politics.  Cameron used part of his gap year to work for a Tory MP and joined a Conservative think tank pretty much straight from University.  His attempt at gaining life experience was to work as a PR man for Carlton TV.  Nick Clegg has worked briefly as a journalist, but spent most of his time before going into politics in academia or within EU circles.  Gordon Brown spent most of his life in academia, with a brief foray into journalism before being elected in his early 30s.  The Brothers Miliband, for all their obvious intelligence, are even more depressing cases in terms of having almost no life outside political circles.

Life experience is more than simply valuable.  A politician without life experience is brings almost nothing to the table.

But experience is not simply a way of saying age.  Experientially time is elastic too.  As Einstein put it (and this quote was provided by the interweb and wasn’t sourced, but makes the point well); “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”

A year for a two year old is half a lifetime, for an eighty year old but a brief interlude.  Routine murders time.  If we do the same thing day after day we can go to sleep at twenty and wake up sixty.  Take a journey to somewhere strange and abandon the familiar and two weeks can seem like two months.

If you’re young and hanker after going into politics but don’t want to wait then live fast.  Experience different things, travel, live and work in different fields with people with wildly different backgrounds and viewpoints to your own,  don’t waste time watching it on TV when you could go do it yourself.

Figure out what you need to understand to equip yourself with the right skills; law and campaigning and how the media works.  But above all make sure you understand people, young and old, men and women, of all races, of many outlooks.  If you don’t find people endlessly fascinating, their problems compelling, their dreams inspiring, then what are you doing wanting to be elected?  Politics is not a game.  Go work in an office.  If you do and if you can make their hopes your hopes, their worries your worries and their struggle your struggle then go to it and whether you’re twenty or eighty you might just be worth voting for.

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