29 July, 2004: Young at heart

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Much fuss in the Conservative Party's internal newsletter over the (lack of) activities of so-called `bed-blocking' older Tory MPs. Apparently, the Conservative Chief Whip is,

having ``a quiet whisky'' with members whom he believes are not pulling their weight

in order to clear out 30 safe seats for a new generation of Young Conservatives. The Torygraph's story is backed up with high-quality statistics such as these:

Michael Mates, a member of Lord Butler's committee, voted in only 30 per cent of divisions, the worst record of any Tory MP. Stephen Dorrell, the member for Charnwood and once secretary of state for health, asked no oral questions and voted in only 33 per cent of divisions.

To be honest, this story sounded like bollocks when I read it and a little work demonstrates that I was right. They Work For You collects `performance' data for individual MPs: the number of speeches they make and written questions they ask, the number of divisions (votes) they attend, and what fraction of messages sent them through Fax Your MP are answered within a fortnight. The Tories' own site has biographies of the individual MPs, which usually mention their dates of birth. (I couldn't find the dates of birth of 16 of 169 Tory MPs; this won't significantly affect the results.)

Firstly, the age distribution of Tory MPs:

Age distribution of Tory MPs

The ages of Conservative Parliamentarians are (slightly surprisingly) approximately normally distributed with mean 52.6 years and standard deviation 8.5 years. This tells us that `young' is a relative term here; picking an arbitrary cut-off, I've assumed that `young' Tory MPs are those aged 50 or less.

Basically there is no correlation between age and `performance' in Conservative MPs:

With outliers -- like John Bercow MP, who asks hundreds of written questions per year -- excluded, there are no statistically significant performance differences between `old' (>50 years) and `young' (<50 years) Tory MPs.

The moral of the story? Not sure, but perhaps one or more of these will do:

Copyright (c) 2004 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.