Sunday, January 27, 2008

Young Fogies

Martin Kettle in Saturday's Guardian was musing on the "juvenalisation" of British politics; referring to the marked trend for younger leaders. Ming Campbell was driven out for being an old duffer. Nick Clegg and David Cameron are both 41; and in the Cabinet there are the two Balls, Purnell, the Milibands, and so on (seven of the Cabinet are 40 or under). The average age of Cabinet Ministers is 49; in Wilson's March 1974 Cabinet it was 55. I'm not quite sure politicians in their later thirties and early forties are appropriately described as "juveniles", but I know what Kettle means.

Does age matter? I think probably a Cabinet should try to "balance" these things ( a rather boring conclusion but there you are). There does see to be a lack of weighty older politicians in Brown's Cabinet. The problem with younger politicians is that they have no memory: no years of experience, of previous failure and frustration, to draw upon. Blair was the least experienced PM for decades. Would an older wiser head have been more wary of Iraq? (Then again Eden was nearly 60, and a hugely experienced politician, when he rushed into Suez). I also doubt that younger Ministers are more radical: Attlee's Cabinet was pretty long in the tooth.

Far more worrying than age is that politicians these days tend increasingly to simply have no experience of anything except politics. The trajectory nowadays is from university, and possibly university politics, to becoming a researcher or party worker and then MP perhaps via a short stint in a cognate field such as PR or broadcasting. The days of the Bevins and Bevans - with their experience of life outside the London media and politics and PR circuit - have long gone. There are exceptions - Alan Johnson - but they are few and far between. There are also far fewer characters in politics; all these PR-savvy wannabees look and sound the same. Young they may be, but God aren't they boring? Most were, as they say, "born middle-aged".

Purnell was on the Marr show this morning. Articulate enough but I can't say I took to him. The suit is too sharp and the shoes too shiny.


Blogger skipper said...

As I get older I tend to think experience is quite important. I agree an older Blair would have been less likely to invade Iraq-would he have done it now, at his present age? I think not. His advisers too were very young- Campbell, Powell Adonis. Wilson's cabinet was older, and if it never achieved all that much, it avoided Vietnam and did not make too many cock-ups.

9:18 pm  

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