It is a sin to be old in New Labour, says Austin Mitchell

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR was yesterday accused of ageism for preferring young ministers to older hands with more experience by a Labour MP who compared New Labour to "a children's crusade". Austin Mitchell, one of the veteran Labour backbench MPs who has never been given office, said in Oldie magazine that older people were now regarded as "useless" by the Blair camp.

"To be old is a bit of an inconvenience," said the 63-year-old MP for Great Grimsby. "Compulsory rejuvenation" had got off to a bad start, he added. "Youngsters have made the biggest messes. Gordon Brown locked the Government into the coming deflation, Peter Mandelson brings the Dome disaster, and Harriet Harman social insecurity. His salvo may be regarded as sour grapes but its timing was regarded as unhelpful, coming on the day of local elections, Labour's first real test since the general election.

"New Labour is a children's crusade led by the early middle-aged, advised by fresh-faced boy wonders - all slim-line, coutured and coiffured to look younger than their eyes. To be old is a bit of an inconvenience," Mr Mitchell said. The old just did not figure in Tony Blair's world, he went on.

"New Labour is glamour, excitement, cool Britannia, impetus and image but Labour's oldies have been wearied and worn down by the task of pushing the party uphill." New Labour would not reward long service to old Labour: "In this new world the wisdom, the experience, the loyalties and even the persons of the older generation are useless." Many Labour MPs "who offered experience and a safe pair of trousers" had been left grumbling on the shelf. "So where now before the grave? Normally oldies soldier on to semi-retirement in the Lords, but that now looks less attractive.

"So does the increasingly pressured House of Commons, controlled by bleeper, coached by fax and disciplined by incompetent young whips who think a majority of 180 needs the tight discipline of one of 10.

"Today's parliamentary life is harder and more competitive as the treadmill moves faster."

The Independent has learned that some younger ministers admit to being "knackered" by the weight of work in government. One government source said: "The main problem is we don't have any time for reflection. There is a completely different culture in government. In opposition, we socialised together and took quite important decisions verbally, but that has all changed. We are being weighed down by the weight of the bureaucracy."

Exhausted ministers, page 21