140616 Ages of the Prime Ministers

Although it’s not an entirely clear-cut trend, it’s fair to say – as is often said – that our Prime Ministers are becoming younger. Just look at the graph I’ve produced above (click for a larger version), comparing the ages of those who occupied No.10 in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. Up to and including Margaret Thatcher only one person became Prime Minister in their forties: Harold Wilson. After Thatcher we’ve had three: John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron.

Does this leave us poorer, lacking in Prime Ministers who’ve had enough experience of life? I’ll let you reach your own conclusions. But it certainly helps to make Prime Ministers richer. Nowadays, after leaving office, they have decades in which to plump their bank accounts with various directorships, book deals and speaking engagements. It helps, as well, that we’re mostly living longer. In 1902, when Robert Cecil finished his third term as Prime Minister, a 65-year-old man could expect to live another 10 or so years. Now it’s more like twenty.

The reason I mention this is Blair’s rictus presence in today’s newspapers. Of course, this is down to the most controversial aspect of his premiership: the invasion of Iraq. But it also reflects, I think, this trend towards youthfulness in our Prime Ministers. We keep on talking about him in part because he keeps on talking. And, what’s more, he can practically saying anything he wants. Like Major, Blair has eschewed a seat in the Lords, so he’s not involved with his party’s policy process – nor, indeed, with much else to do with Labour. He’s an independent figure with years of freedom ahead of him.

It could be very similar for the current Prime Minister, too. Another factor in all this is parties’ increasing mercilessness towards leaders who lose elections. If Cameron doesn’t triumph next year, it’s near to unthinkable that he’ll have another chance to become Prime Minister, as Churchill and others had in the last Century. Instead, he’ll be booted out, aged 48. The first person to finish with being Prime Minister in his forties since Archibald Primrose in 1895.

And his would-be replacement? Another forty-something, called Edward Samuel Miliband. If only there were age restrictions, like on some of the rides at Alton Towers.