Wild things: the UK’s next generation of political stars

In Depth: UK could follow Austria, Ireland and France to elect a rising young politician

Angela Rayner
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner is among those tipped to take over from Jeremy Corbyn
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

France’s Emmanuel Macron, Ireland’s Leo Varadkar, Estonia’s Juri Ratas and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern have a lot in common - as part of a group of under-40s leading their nations and a political revolution.

And as The Times says: “The baby leaders club is swelling.”

When Irish Taoiseach Varadkar, 38, welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 45, to Dublin in July, The Irish Times couldn’t help noticing their youthful “bromance”.

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“Throw in France’s Emmanuel Macron and, what with the snappy suits, stylish haircuts and swooning admirers, they could be mistaken for a 1990s boy band reunion tour,” wrote the newspaper’s Miriam Lord. “Minus the unreliable wild one who recklessly gambled on going solo. That would be Boris [Johnson].”

But even Trudeau’s youthful energy pales beside Sebastian Kurz, 31, the Austrian conservative who may yet become the world’s youngest leader. Kurz’s far-right People’s Party has been holding talks with potential coalition partners this week after it won this month’s parliamentary election but fell short of a majority.

With young political stars sweeping to power worldwide, some commentators are asking whether Britain is missing an opportunity.

The Times’s political editor Tim Shipman says: “Britain’s electorate want fresh ideas, and the ageing Tory leadership cannot provide them.”

Here are ten of Britain’s top candidates to inject fresh political blood at Westminister.

Conservative Party

Lucy Frazer, 45, MP for South East Cambridgeshire

According to The Times’s Shipman, Frazer “talks about issues rather than about herself” and “stresses compassion” while masking “an inner steel”. However, the barrister and education campaigner advocates remaining in the European Union - a stance that might hinder her ascension during Brexit talks.

Nusrat Ghani, 45, MP for Wealden, East Sussex

Ghani, elected in 2015, is the first female Muslim Conservative MP, and advocates a new Tory “youth wing” to increase support among young voters, The Guardian reports. In July, she was promoted to parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office.

Neil O'Brien, 38, MP for Harborough, Leicestershire

O’Brien is a man of “extraordinary intellect who drew up some of the original plans for the Northern Powerhouse”, says The Independent. The Times calls him “the best policy brain of his generation”. O’Brien, who has been a special adviser to both Theresa May and former chancellor George Osborne, may be better suited to leading the economy than the country.

Priti Patel, 45, international Development Secretary

Patel, MP for Witham, in Essex, wasn’t ruling out a leadership bid when she was interviewed by ITV’s Robert Peston earlier this year, according to The Independent. But Patel’s previous roles as a spin doctor for tobacco giant BAT, when she lobbied MEPs against EU tobacco regulations, may work against her.

Tom Tugendhat, 44, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee

Tugendhat - who ousted fellow Tory Crispin Blunt to become chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee - has already said it would be “great” to be PM, The Guardian reports. While the MP for Tonbridge and Malling, in Kent, has been tipped for a promotion in the next Cabinet reshuffle, he may be hampered by his views about the UK selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

Labour Party

Rebecca Long-Bailey, 38, shadow business secretary

Long-Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles since 2015, has climbed up the Labour ranks, and is “tipped as a future socialist leader of Labour”, the International Business Times says. She nominated Corbyn as a candidate in the Labour leadership election of 2015, and reportedly has the backing of shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Lisa Nandy, 38, MP for Wigan

The former shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change was tipped as a successor to Corbyn days after her election to his cabinet in 2015, the Manchester Evening News reported. Her “soft-left politics and regular defence of Mr Corbyn on media rounds could play well with the membership”, says The Daily Telegraph.

Angela Rayner, 37, shadow education secretary

Described by Business Insider UK as an “up and coming” MP, Rayner has served Ashton-under-Lyne since 2015. The New Statesman says that she “is increasingly spoken of as a future Labour leader” and that her rise through the Labour Party has been “irresistible”.

Chuka Umunna, 39, shadow business secretary

Umunna previously announced his bid for the leadership following Ed Miliband’s resignation in 2015, only to then retract it. However, the The Sun says the MP for Streatham “is being lined up to wrestle power from Jeremy Corbyn’s grip on Labour”.

Liberal Democratics

Jo Swinson, 37, MP for East Dunbartonshire

Swinson was the favourite to become Lib Dem leader following the resignation of Tim Farron in June. She ruled herself out of the race, however, making room for Vince Cable, the BBC reports. Swinson dismisses claims that she has a “leadership pact” with Cable.


Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon since June, is “believed to be the first MP of Palestinian descent to be elected to the Commons”, says the BBC. She unseated former Tory frontbencher Nicola Blackwood by just 816 votes.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, 38, could also be a contender, despite once calling the PM’s role “the lonliest job in the world”. Other possibles include Conservatives Dominic Raab, 43, Sajid Javid, 47, and Boris Johnson’s brother Jo Johnson, 45.

For now, however, the old guard stubbornly cling to power. Theresa May may have had more lives than a Downing Street cat, but at this point, few doubt the PM’s steely determination to fulfil her vow to the party faithful: “I got us into this mess and I’ve got to get us out.”

Infographic by www.statista.com/chartoftheday for TheWeek.co.uk.

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