15:23
Thursday, 28
November 2019


Idea
15:23

How old is too old in politics?

by Peter Franklin
Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Credit: Getty

The state devotes ten of billion of pounds every year in pension payments, tax credits and other means of funding retirement. The idea that we should not have to work in old age is uncontroversial. Indeed, our politicians compete among themselves to find new ways of bunging billions at retirees.

And yet some of our leaders are reluctant to retire themselves. In 2021, Angela Merkel is due to bow out at the age of 67, after 16 years of leading her country. Jeremy Corbyn, however, proposes to start out at the age of 70 — and that’s nothing compared to America.

Despite a recent heart attack, Bernie Sanders is still battling for the Democratic nomination at the age of 78. Still leading the field is Joe Biden, aged 77. For a while it looked as though Elizabeth Warren, 70, was the frontrunner. However, inadequate poll ratings against Donald Trump, 73, have counted against her. Support is currently surging for Pete Buttigieg — but at 37, he has the opposite problem to the other main contenders.

The Democrats are casting around for alternatives. Last week Michael Bloomberg threw his hat in the ring and rumours of Hillary Clinton comeback won’t go away. Of course, this doesn’t solve the age problem — Clinton is 72 and Bloomberg is 77.

The odds that America will get its first octogenarian President have never been so high — with all actuarial risks that implies. America’s oldest living ex-President is Jimmy Carter, who’s 95. Having left office almost 40 years ago, he’s had a long and productive post-Presidency. Nevertheless, earlier this year he expressed doubt about the ability of an 80 year old to do the world’s top job.

Should there be an age limit?

In the UK, the Default Retirement Age (65) was abolished in 2011 — employers can no longer force employees to retire simply because they’ve had a given member of birthdays. However, employers can act on the basis of age-based incapacity. We could have some sort of test — but arguably that’s what an election campaign already is. If we still choose an old guy or gal over a younger alternative, then that’s on us.

Perhaps the real issue is about the size of the talent pool. It’s extraordinary that the 40, 50 and 60-somethings of America can’t produce a convincing presidential candidate between them. Is mainstream politics really that off-putting?


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