The 76-year-old’s success shows experience can still appeal to young people
For the past few decades, British politics has become more and more obsessed with the culture of youth in its leaders. With every succeeding generation, leaders have got younger and more inexperienced.
Tony Blair was 41 when he became Labour leader—the youngest in the party’s history until Ed Miliband was elected at the age of 40. The Conservatives have plumped for even younger leaders than Labour. David Cameron was a mere 38 years old when he was elected leader and William Hague was only 36.
All three of the current party leaders had also had only a short apprenticeship in parliament before becoming leader of their respective parties. Ed Miliband had been an MP for only five years before becoming Labour leader. But he’s a veteran compared to Cameron and Clegg: Cameron had been an MP for four years before being elected leader and Nick Clegg for only two years.
That’s a far cry from the days when party leaders served a lengthy apprenticeship on the green benches and as cabinet ministers before they could be considered as leadership material.
We are told that the reason for this is that youthful and inexperienced leaders are the only ones who can be heard in a rolling news environment. Voters, apparently, will favour youth over experience every time. It is argued that young voters can only relate to younger political leaders. In politics it seems that image-makers are ready to pension politicians off way before the retirement age for everybody else.
But what does the voting evidence say about the theory that has dominated politics for the past few decades? In the Republican primaries, one man more than any other has energised younger Republicans and has been a massive draw on college campuses. As though to cock a snook to political image-makers, the man who has been energising young Republicans is a 76-year-old grandfather. In the Iowa caucus, Ron Paul got the support of a massive 48 per cent of voters under the age of 30. He repeated the trick in New Hampshire, beating Mitt Romney by a margin of 47 per cent to 26 per cent amongst 18 to 29 year old voters. Despite trailing in fourth amongst all voters in South Carolina, Paul still won the vote of the under 30s.
This has happened in the most media intensive…