OMG, I just got elected! Meet Britain’s youngest MP


It had seemed that Sam Carling, 22, was never destined to become a member of parliament. In November he was Labour’s second selection, after its first-choice candidate was ousted, to fight for a seat that had never in its history been red. So when yesterday’s exit poll came in at 10pm it appeared to seal an obvious end: by pollster John Curtice’s measure, there was just a 26 per cent chance that North West Cambridgeshire would have Carling as its representative.

Clearly fate had other plans. Today Carling has become both Britain’s new Baby of the House, as its youngest electee, and the joint-youngest Labour MP in modern history, almost tied to the day with title-holder Malcolm Macmillan, who triumphed in 1935.

Carling contested veteran Conservative Shailesh Vara, who was elected into North West Cambridgeshire in 2005 and held on to his seat right until this year, sticking around for long enough to be a minister in three separate governments. Staff whispers from early on in the night suggested that Vara would surely hang on, and that it was not only the seat’s voting record and the exit poll that seemed to stand in Carling’s way.

The new Baby of the House comes from, “a totally apolitical family, in quite a deprived part of the north east of England,” he says. Though Carling has lived in Cambridge since he was 18, studying natural sciences at the University of Cambridge before becoming a research fellow there (one of his two present jobs, alongside sitting on Cambridgeshire Council), his strong north eastern accent still means that he is an oddity in this pocket of the blue wall south.

If Carling ever felt that he was bound to become a Labour MP one day, then, and in the south of England at that, this is a belief that he has deftly hidden. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” he said after making his winners’ speech. “I’m very grateful to all the residents who have put their trust in me, and I’m very cognisant of the responsibility that comes with that,” he adds, like any good new politician is wont to do.

As we speak, on the floor of Peterborough’s enormous Kingsgate Conference Centre auditorium, the young man is constantly beset by photographers. It’s easy to see why. On this momentous night, when pictures speak much louder than words, Carling looks for all the world like a sixth former who has just been crowned head boy.

He might look 'like a sixth former', but Carling has been a city councillor since the age of 20He might look 'like a sixth former', but Carling has been a city councillor since the age of 20

He might look ‘like a sixth former’, but Carling has been a city councillor since the age of 20 – David Rose

Even after his victory Carling still displays a hint of the nerves that had plagued him throughout the night, and by 6am he was more exhausted than ecstatic. “All the predictions were all over the place,” he says. “The exit poll said I would lose, but by our own data, we thought I still might win.” There was a dramatic 5am recount after Carling was initially found to have won the seat by just 23 votes – in the end, as if by magic, they found him an extra 16. “It was very, very uncertain right until the last minute,” he admits.

It’s asked of every new Baby of the House, and many a fresh MP in their 20s, how they can hope to represent their constituents in Parliament given their lack of life experience. Carling has better grounds for argument than most. He has been a city councillor since the age of 20 and now manages a budget worth £17 million, as well as hundreds of staff.

Throughout the night, however, it seemed as if someone had forgotten to inform the councillor that to become an MP meant an entrance into public life. He arrived bang-on-the-dot at 10pm, hot on the heels of the exit poll and more than three hours before Vara appeared. The Labour lad immediately announced that he would not be making any comments to journalists until after the result was called, “and even then I might not”, he said, as he flitted between the rooms hosting the North West Cambridgeshire count.

Carling and Vara await the recount at  Peterborough's Kingsgate Conference Centre auditoriumCarling and Vara await the recount at  Peterborough's Kingsgate Conference Centre auditorium

Carling and Vara await the recount at Peterborough’s Kingsgate Conference Centre auditorium – David Rose

When Vara made his landing at the count at just past 1am, he stopped to dispel some wisdom to his young rival. But Carling was clearly flustered by the sudden appearance of the photographers who had trailed Vara up the stairs towards the ballot boxes: he was distracted by the “flurry”, he pronounced. Soon afterwards the candidate was snapped on his phone while sitting on a chair in the corridor, something of a classic Gen Z pose, and much to his protests; afterwards he tried to steer clear of snappers all night, darting between rooms to avoid attention.

Who was he texting? Perhaps his friends, who he imagines now are “proud” – “obviously a lot of them have been out supporting me,” he says, “though I won’t be seeing them for a few hours, because priority number one will be going to sleep”.

Or maybe he was congratulating another super-young candidate, such as the new Labour MP for Hertford and Stortford, 24-year-old Josh Dean, who with Carling will form Gen Z’s political debut. But Carling is careful. “I know some of them as friends and as colleagues,” he says. “I’m sure I will get to know more of them, but I don’t really know who’s been successful at this stage.”

After this the candidate maintained his solitude until just past 3.30am, when the first hints of his seat’s new status were revealed. At 3.48am Carling was standing by the count table on the summons of the returning officer, looking gleeful for the first time in that long evening. It seemed he had won: but the margin was so small that the Conservatives had demanded a recount.

Just down the aisle were a friendly but tense-looking midlife couple with lanyards that designated them as “count agents”, peering down at Carling with concern. In a room full of plain-clothed people their northern accents gave them away. The candidate’s parents had followed him to the count. But “I won’t confirm or deny that,” Carling’s mum said. Clearly he had them well-trained too.

Despite even this, Carling is keen not to be defined by his age. “At the end of the day I’m the Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire, as weird as it sounds,” he says. “I want us as a society to get into a position where we’re not obsessing over people’s age when they’re elected to these positions, because realistically they are just as capable as anyone else.”

Yet he exudes a particular kind of frenetic energy that is most commonly found in A-level exam halls. After the recount was announced Carling paced the room, tugging at his mound of curly mouse-brown hair or dutifully adjusting his Labour rosette. His black jacket was slightly too big, the matching trousers slightly too short. The first to be delivered the news of the recount were his parents, and until the ballots were collected for a final time, it was only them that he wanted for company.

Others in the room clearly see Carling in a different light. Alongside his parents at the count were many of his council colleagues. “We’ve seen him improve a lot in the last two years,” says one, who is old enough to be Carling’s grandfather. “We’ve had to slow him down a bit, because he used to talk so fast, and that’s helped with understanding his accent too,” he explains. “But he’s really learned how to interact with the public. He’s very well-liked. He’ll go a long way.”

The council will be sad to lose Sam to Westminster as “he’s good, with his vibrance,” another colleague explains. “He’s got that sort of confidence you only have when you’re so young. North West Cambridgeshire will never be a safe seat, unless he does exceptionally well, but we are looking at someone who is going to be a big name in politics within the next few years.”

Veteran Conservative Shailesh Vara was elected into North West Cambridgeshire in 2005Veteran Conservative Shailesh Vara was elected into North West Cambridgeshire in 2005

Veteran Conservative Shailesh Vara was elected into North West Cambridgeshire in 2005 – David Rose

While Vara detachedly observed the recount from his feet, slowly hovering by each table, Carling sat at the desk directly opposite counters with his back straight and hands together, as if he could will the ballots to change in his favour. It almost seemed that he was counting the papers himself, with a forensic precision he perhaps has honed in his work as a cancer research scientist at Cambridge University – he is precocious in more ways than one.

Perhaps it’s this intensity that makes Carling cut something of a lonely figure. One colleague of his jokes that he fits his council work and research, formerly his Cambridge natural sciences degree, “around his paper round”. You have to wonder how he makes the time to be 22, and how he will adjust to life in Westminster and in London, one that could be more slow-paced and low-stakes than that which he currently leads.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Carling says when asked how he feels about the prospect of leaving Cambridge University and the council behind. He had originally planned for a career in science, though all that changed during covid, when he realised that “actually, I want to work in politics” – around the time that his school’s sixth form was shut down.

“I’m thrilled to be taking on the role, and that’s the main focus,” he says, “but there’s a little pang of sadness. But then I think I can bring a lot of the experience I have from working in science to Parliament and building up evidence-based policy and social circles,” Carling says, as if this is just any other LinkedIn-boosting graduate job.

Shortly before 5.30 the room silently acknowledged Carling’s victory. There was a brief moment when a third count might have been called, it was thought, before Shailesh Vara conceded defeat. He gracefully shook Sam’s hand again and smiled at his parents, before hugging and kissing his own supporters. From some within that camp there seemed to be tears.

In Sam’s camp too hugs abounded – his parents beamed – but there was a sense of finality to all this rather than that of a new beginning. As one councillor said, all had thought Carling would “walk it in”, despite what local officials and national polls may have claimed.

The young new MP clearly has huge respect for 63-year-old Vara, too, despite his determination to right what he sees as the ruin done to North West Cambridgeshire by Tory rule. “The overriding thing for me is the manifesto I stood on,” Carling says. “It’s Labour’s mission, it’s those first steps of change. We’re going to get on with that straight away, in terms of rebuilding Britain’s public services and getting our country’s future back in essence,” he says.

But this night could not have been less about the nation. The seat’s recount was called fifty minutes before Rishi Sunak would concede defeat to Starmer, and when that national defeat was screened on the count room’s enormous TV no one batted an eyelid. Nor did they when an enormous cheer could be heard from the bottom floor as Peterborough constituency declared for Labour.

In regards to his own victory and to his party’s, “I don’t think I have any plans to celebrate,” says the new MP, besides going to bed – by the end of the night he has a pounding headache. “I know there was a party over in Cambridge with a lot of my colleagues in the city council, though that will probably have wrapped up by the time I get there.”

Carling leaves the conference centre at 6am after local media and the BBC have had their fill of questions. Some wondered whether he is now Britain’s youngest MP, if not only Labour’s. Carling is so self-serious that his age can be easily forgotten, as can the fact that he has never before voted in a general election – until you see the Baby of the House with his parents in tow, on the way to the family car in the parking lot.

He might appear more like a sixth form prefect than a future leader after an overnight count, but are we looking at a future science or education secretary, as his colleagues believe, or perhaps even a future Prime Minister? “I’ve only just been elected, so let’s just take things one step at a time,” Carling says before he departs. “I really haven’t had time to think about that in great detail, so let’s leave that for later. We’ll speculate on that one.”

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