150122 Ages of the Prime Ministers
  • For those with long memories. Yes, you have seen the above chart before. I produced it for a post last year. But we figured that, with the general election approaching and the possibility of a new Prime Minister in No.10, it was worth including in this new To The Point series. You can click it for a larger version.
  • For those without. The chart is pretty self-explanatory: it shows, since the start of the 20th Century, the ages of our country’s Prime Ministers on entering office for the first time and on leaving it for the last. You’ll notice that, on the whole, they’re getting younger. Up to and including Thatcher there was only one person who became Prime Minister in their forties: Harold Wilson. Since Thatcher there have been a further three: John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron. In fact, Cameron could both enter and leave office before he turns fifty.
  • An ageing population… Not only are Prime Ministers getting younger, they should also, in theory, be living longer. Back when Robert Cecil was finishing off his third term, the average 65-year-old man could expect to live another ten years – Cecil himself died a year later, aged 73. But nowadays it takes twice as long for Mr Average to fall six feet under.
  • …is a political problem. Younger Prime Ministers? Longer lifespans? Our democracy is manufacturing its own ghosts at the banquet. A former Prime Minister could now be around for decades after stepping down from office, which could be tricky for those leading the party afterwards. And even if they remove themselves from the party structure, as recent Prime Ministers have done by forgoing their traditional seats in the Lords, new problems arise. Here we have independent figures free to say what they wish and, to some extent, make money how they wish – for years and years and years. The recent attempts to scrutinise Tony Blair’s business pursuits are a function of that.
  • It could be worse. Party systems and popular votes are something of a check on ever younger leaders: Kim Jong-un simply inherited his supreme position at the age of 28. At least Cameron had to wait until he was 43.