Age is suddenly everything in politics. The Conservatives should skip a generationby Asa Bennett / July 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Tory Party has been regularly in government for around 300 years. It is an old party, and in the 2017 election—more than ever before—it was the party of the old too. IpsosMORI reported that it mopped up a crushing 61 per cent of the over-65 vote. In an ageing society, that sounds like a solid basis for victory, but—alas for Theresa May—it was not enough. The party is unlikely to get back into a commanding position until it can appeal to younger cohorts, and picking a leader who belongs to one might be a good place to start.
Tony Blair was 43 when he took over in 1997, and he wooed Britain with his story (or waffle) about a “young country.” The Conservatives initially retreated into hopeless nostalgia. They looked and sounded like yesterday’s men, opposing even popular innovations such as the introduction of the minimum wage, and the baby-faced William Hague could not disguise this: he just sounded like a “young fogey.” The Tories, however, have lasted in the way that they have over the centuries because of their ruthless capacity for reinvention. Endlessly, the party has renewed itself, junking any leader—or policy—that was holding it back. After burning through two further (older) leaders, they eventually made the generational shift not merely in personnel but in thinking too, and found a winner. David Cameron dispelled the stereotype of grey fustiness that dogged the party and led it back into power. And just like Blair, he did so at the age of 43.
After six years, he was succeeded by a woman 10 years his senior. Previous examples of PMs passing the torch to the older generation do not bode well: Callaghan was older than Wilson wh…