This was an article I wrote at the beginning of February, and was in my "blog ideas" folder. As I'm not really up to blog postings this week, I shall be trawling through my archive a bit! It was prompted by an age gap of 46 years between youngest and oldest candidates standing.
The Election: Does Age Matter?
I hope to raise a few questions and suggests some different answers to questions on the periphery of these elections. One question which has presented itself: does age matter?
It can be thought that a very young candidate just does not have the experience of life in "the outside world", while a much older man may well have more rigid and unbending views, and be out of touch with the needs of the present.
It is interesting that we have possibly youngest candidate to try for the States, Sam Mezec, at 23 years old, and at the other end of the spectrum, Ian Philpott, who declined to give his age, but who is 69 years old, and 70 later this year, as his Facebook profile testifies.
It is possible that Ian Philpott thinks that his age might count against him (hence his hestitancy), yet there are a number of British politicians who became Prime Minister around his age. Obviously they had been elected as MPs before that date, but evidently their peers thought them the man for the job, not to pass over in favour of younger men.
Yet Henry Campbell-Bannerman was 69 when he became Prime Minister in 1905, and was the First Lord of the Treasury to be officially take the title "Prime Minister". Known colloquially as "CB", he was a firm believer in free trade, Irish Home Rule and the improvement of social conditions. As Wikipedia notes, he also laid the ground for later reforms in a remarkable series of changes to the welfare of children:
"As Prime Minister, Campbell-Bannerman also passed the Probation Act 1907, which established supervision within the community for young offenders as an alternative to prison, and the Children's Charter, which formed the basis of modern child welfare law, including a clause imposing punishment for those neglecting children. It was also made illegal for children to purchase alcohol, tobacco or fireworks, and medical inspections began to be rolled out across the nation."
But even older, but just as memorable, was Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston on 6 February 1855 who was appointed for the first time at the age of 71 years for a period of 3 years. He became Prime Minister once more in 1859 when he was seventy-five years old. He is still the oldest individual to take office as Prime Minister.
At times in favour of Parliamentary Reform, at times opposed to further Reform, he was a popular politician who dominated foreign affairs for many years, and is probably most notable for his "Civis Romanus Sum" speech:
"As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity when he could say 'Civis Romanus Sum' [I am a Roman citizen], so also a British subject in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong."
But as Home Secretary, he had been responsible for
- a Factory Act
- a Smoke Abatement Act in London
- the Penal Servitude Act that stopped transportation to Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land)
Turning to the problems faced by callow youth, the youngest Prime Minister to be appointed was William Pitt the Younger, who took office on 19 December 1783 at the age of 24 years old. He was from an aristocratic family, and was privately educated at home. At 14, he went to Cambridge, but again ill health struck, and he chose to graduate without having to pass examinations, taking dvantage of a little-used privilege available only to the sons of noblemen. He tried for Parliament twice, and got in at a bi-election in the pocket borough of Appleby, which was controlled by his patron James Lowther. Ironically, he later criticised the scheme of rotten boroughs.
Pitt can hardly have any claim to a wider experience of the world. His education was private and singular, not in the company of other students. At Cambridge, he tended to socialise only with fellow students and others already known to him, and he rarely ventured outside the university grounds.
When he became Prime Minister, he was an easy target because of his youth - "a sight to make all nations stand and stare: a kingdom trusted to a schoolboy's care". And yet he presided as Prime Minister for a period of 17 years, earning great great popularity with the public at large as "Honest Billy". He was seen as a refreshing change from the dishonesty, corruption and lack of principles widely associated with previous incumbents of high office.
Although he failed in some of his reforms, he worked with Wilberforce towards the eventual abolition of the Slave Trade, and the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807, once year after his death. His enthusiasm for reform still remained despite setbacks, and one quote is still as pertinent today in summing up his radical agenda:
"Necessity was the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It was the argument of tyrants; it was the creed of slaves."
Does age matter? As my ramble though a few examples taken from history shows, it need not do so. The older man standing for election can bring the wealth of experience of working with other people on charitable ventures, and making things happen, and of the need to do more to combat social ills. And the younger man can bring the fresh idealism of youth, and an incisive eye against the laid back attitude that refuses to look at matters needing reform, both internal, and in matters of social justice.
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