From a cult of youth to a cult of age

In his memoir Hinterland, the former Labour Minister and acclaimed diarist Chris Mullin reflects on the cult of youth in British politics. This was manifested in the bright young things, lacking experience outside of politics and with little non-instrumental participation within it, coming to dominate the parties. But it was most striking in the leadership itself, with all three main party leaders in the 2010 general election having been elected to that post within five years of entering Parliament.

Fast forward to 2017. The position of 68 year old Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader is unassailable. 74 year old Vince Cable was elected unopposed, with competitors having been vanquished within a weakened party. Many see 68 year old David Davis as the most likely successor to Theresa May once she is inevitably disposed as Conservative leader. We can see a similar trend in US where the 71 year old Donald Trump will possibly face the 75 year old Bernie Sanders in the next election.

What is going on here? It’s possible to read too much into the contingent outgrowths of messy intra-party processes. But there is prima facie evidence that a cult of youth is rapidly being replaced by a cult of age, at least as far as Anglo-American political leadership is concerned.

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