This may seem a really daft question: should teenagers be running the country, or at least advising those who do? It wouldn’t, after all, be the first time the nation has been ruled by children.
Henry III and Edward VI became kings at nine, Richard II was ten and Edward III was 14, although admittedly they had adult regents to keep an eye on them during their minority.
Henry VIII was 17 when he took the throne and Queen Victoria got the crown at 18. Our youngest current MP, Labour’s Selby by-election winner Keir Mather, is 25 which by these standards is already getting on a bit. And the average age of the Parliamentarians he joins, taking MPs and peers together, is 60.
I have nothing against the older worker being one myself. But these people tend to get their view of the outside world from Twitter or Facebook, social media platforms the young Henry or Victoria wouldn’t have been seen dead on. TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat would have been much more their thing.
Yet 60 year old tribunes of the people will soon need to pass legislation on artificial intelligence if it’s not to get completely out of hand. Most politicians of my acquaintance haven’t much of a clue about it, while the 16 year olds I know do.
They understand the deepfakes which can clone your speaking voice so even your nearest and dearest think it’s you, and the voice modulation apps and safewords to foil scammers out to snaffle the family silver.
The only voice impressions most MPs recognise are those practised by the likes of Rory Bremner. I once got into trouble with the Labour Party for revealing how Bremner tried out his Tony Blair act by phoning the Labour leader’s private office pretending to be him to see if he could fool them. He did.
Though that might not be saying much. When I used to call the Treasury in the days Nigel Lawson was Chancellor I would often be put through to his most senior staffers because our names sounded similar and switchboard operators got their Nigels mixed up. Perhaps I should have continued with the masquerade and ordered them to lower interest rates or knock a penny off income tax.
But back to AI. Whitehall, as you would expect, is keen to embrace it and Paymaster-General Jeremy Quin promises it will be used “confidently and responsibly.” The example he gives does not inspire confidence. It’s a new civil service unit known as i.AI which will “explore Automation and Innovation in government.” That’s all very well, Mr Quin, but what does that mean? What exactly will it do? I’ll bet a teenager could cut through the guff and explain it precisely.
Though, of course, they might do it in a different language to the one grown-ups use. There’s nothing new in this; to adults teenagers have always spoken in tongues. What is different is the hieroglyphics and shorthand they now use in the form of emojis and texts.
Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer may struggle with a WhatsApp saying: LMIRL4Netflix&chill. Translation: Let’s meet in real life for sex. And probably best they don’t send it to each other. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is unlikely to refer to his tax take as lizzy or use a pea emoji which both mean money. But having got over the language barrier, there are insights youngsters could bring to any Cabinet meeting.
What teenagers lack in maturity they make up for in certainty; you can always rely on them to tell you exactly what's wrong with the world and how it should be fixed. They have apparently acquired the ability to know it all which will desert them in later life. We should make use of that skill while it lasts. Just don’t let them loose on the education system. A couple of lessons before lunch, no homework, and the rest of the day on a football or hockey field is not going to cut it.
Sir Keir StarmerPA
But when it comes to technology they knock spots off adults because their heads have been digital since they could crawl. Covid test and trace was a shambles, but had the problem been handed over to them they would have had a working app within a matter of hours. Computerised NHS records? Get a teenager to sort it.
Their input into the Online Harms Bill would be invaluable, especially on age verification because they are the experts when it comes to getting around it.
I thought the Conservatives might have got the hang of the need for this when they formed a new campaign group called Next Gen Tories. Unfortunately its mission statement is to “drive party membership of the under 45s” which is not quite the next generation I had in mind.
But should the PM wish to hire some young advisers there are some downsides to take into account. He will have to switch Cabinet meetings from early morning to late afternoon to allow teenagers time to get out of bed.
And he would have to hire their mums as £90,000 a year special advisers to ferry them around and make a sandwich on demand at any hour of the day or night.