This post has been corrected.
Mhairi Black is 20 years old. She became a member of the UK parliament—the youngest since the 17th century—after the May general election, representing the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Paisley and Renfrewshire. She won the seat from Labour’s Douglas Alexander, a former shadow foreign secretary.
She just gave a maiden speech in the House of Commons that’s making a lot of people—including, very likely, George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer—sit up and take notice:
Black’s speech isn’t particularly strident, showy, or fierce. But it’s clever. She makes jokes. She tells a story that takes in poverty and hunger, and criticizes Scotland’s welfare system, while still ringing true. She has the measured, engaging delivery of a far more seasoned politician.
Black also delivers two stinging challenges. One is to the cutting of certain benefits by the Conservative Party’s chancellor.
MPs have their housing expenses paid, she notes, “but the chancellor also abolished any housing benefit for anyone under the age of 21.” That leads to “the ridiculous situation whereby because I am an MP, not only am I the youngest but I am also the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK the chancellor is prepared to help with housing.”
Then she turned to the Labour party, now in opposition alongside the SNP but with few members in attendance at the session to see her speak (among other parliamentary business). “No matter how much I may wish it, the SNP is not the sole opposition to this government,” she said, “But nor is the Labour Party… In order to be effective we must oppose, not abstain.”
She said she was reaching out a hand of friendship which she hoped would be taken. But it looked more like a gauntlet thrown down which either the Labour Party, or the Conservatives, or both, may have to take up.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Black won her seat from Danny Alexander; in fact she won it from Douglas Alexander.