MP or Time Lord – the key criterion should be talent

Age matters acutely for politicians as they struggle to appeal to the entire population

Share

At what age does one go from gimmick to promising newcomer? And from newcomer to old hand? And from old hand to past it? It’s a perennial puzzle, especially for politicians, who, once elected by some of the people, must endeavour to appeal to or at least understand the ideals and interests of all of the people, whether 18 or 80 years old.

You would think that if any politician could navigate these tricky straits, it would be William Hague, a man blessed with both the face of a Dutch Renaissance baby and the voice of an octogenarian extra on Emmerdale. But even he has fallen foul of the age trap. It emerges in newly released Downing Street files that Margaret Thatcher vetoed Hague’s appointment as special adviser to the Treasury when he was 21, because he was too young. “NO!!!” she scrawled. “This is a gimmick and would be deeply resented by many who have financial and economic experience.”

How times have changed. In a world run by tech billionaires still in college hoodies, youth is no longer a gimmick. In David Cameron, the country has its youngest PM in almost 200 years – and yet his years, or lack of, rarely come up.

Did Thatcher have an optimal age in mind when she vetoed Hague’s move into politics? It’s hard to work out what that might be. Too young, and they may never win the confidence of older voters. Too old, and they risk alienating the next generation. Perhaps it’s 49 – bang in the middle of 18 and 80, the moment at which unsullied passion and jaded experience are held in perfect counterbalance. Or perhaps there is no magic number and politicians should realise that, like parents at a child’s party, they can’t win, and trying too hard only makes it worse.

The same No 10 files reveal Thatcher took a softer line on one Oliver Letwin, put forward for a Department of Education post, aged 26. “Oliver, after a brilliant career at Cambridge has just come back from Princeton,” ran the memo. “You know his parents Shirley and Bill...” It’s not politicians’ youth that’s the worry. It’s their old-school connections.

Peter Capaldi, best known to television viewers as The Thick of It's swivel-eyed, sweary Malcolm Tucker, is the new favourite to play Doctor Who. This week bookmakers slashed the odds on the Scottish actor succeeding Matt Smith in the role to 2-1.

Capaldi's rumoured move from spin doctor to Doctor conjures delicious visions of the Time Lord effing and blinding his way through Saturday teatime, withering Daleks with a single bulge of his eyeballs and a spittly bon mot. But that's the not the main reason to get excited about Capaldi clambering inside the Tardis. The main reason is that he is one of the UK's finest actors. Moreover, he is 55 years old, the same age that William Hartnell was when he became the first Doctor in 1963. Since then the character has grown more babyfaced with each regeneration – Christopher Eccleston was 41 when he took on the role, David Tennant, 34, Matt Smith, 27. A more mature, grizzled Doctor would be a welcome sea change, a fitting nod to the programme's past and, while we're at it, an opportunity for the BBC to demonstrate its new stance against ageism.

On top of all of that, having seen Capaldi's gloriously eccentric turn as Professor Marcus in The Ladykillers in the West End last year, I recall that he also carries off a long, woolly scarf with style. So, yes, Tucker for Time Lord – I'd watch that.

Twitter.com: @alicevjones

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Marketing Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Senior IT Systems Engineer - Southampton - £28k - £34K + bens

£28000 - £34000 per annum + pension, flexitime, healthcare: Deerfoot IT Resour...

Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

£33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: what if Hillary sticks, drowning sorrows and open sesame

John Rentoul
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor