Jeremy Corbyn 'too old to lead Labour into next election', warn top shadow ministers

Senior frontbenchers are concerned Mr Corbyn may have to commit to being in office at the age of almost 78

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 16 January 2018 21:02
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Jeremy Corbyn in 2017: A look at the Labour leader's spirited year

Top figures in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow team are warning in private that he is too old to lead Labour into the next election.

They raise concerns that if he wins in 2022 he would be the oldest prime minister ever to assume office for the first time, but would be telling voters he will lead the country for a further five years.

One shadow cabinet member pointed out it would mean him being in Downing Street when he is almost 78, while another frontbencher told The Independent “leading the country takes an incredible toll”.

It comes as the leader’s allies tightened their grip on the party machine this week, voting in three candidates to Labour’s ruling executive from the Corbyn-backing Momentum group, including its leader Jon Lansman.

Speculation over Mr Corbyn’s future increased after Theresa May made it through a rocky 2017, with many Tories expecting her tenure to last at least until Brexit in 2019 and some talk of a longer stint.

Mr Corbyn maintains he will lead Labour into the next election and beyond, and argues Labour must be ready for an election at any point.

But with a 2022 vote looking more likely, minds at the top of the party are looking to the future. One shadow cabinet source said: “A leader standing at a general election has to commit to doing a full five years.

“Jeremy is in good shape, but by May 2027 he will be nearly 78.”

Another senior frontbencher told The Independent: “Jeremy has a lot of energy now. But 2022 is a long time away, let alone 2027.

“Leading the country takes an incredible toll that is inescapable.”

Before last year’s election, in which Mr Corbyn exceeded all expectations by demolishing a large Tory poll lead, the leader himself indicated that 68 – his current age – was too old to still be working, when asked about the rising state pension age.

If he wins at the age of almost 73 in 2022 he will become the oldest prime minister to move into Downing Street for the first time, beating the previous record set by Viscount Palmerston who was 70 when he assumed office in 1855.

In an interview with The Independent last year, Mr Corbyn insisted he could maintain the high level of activity that has characterised his time at the party’s helm so far even if there is no election until 2022.

Jeremy Corbyn says Labour is 'a government in waiting' in New Year message

He said: “We’ve got lots of energy. I’ve got loads of energy.

“I’m fine, I eat porridge every morning. Porridge and energy bars and I keep off alcohol and meat.”

His spokesman added on Tuesday: “As Jeremy has said, he’s committed to leading the Labour Party into the next election, whenever that may be.”

In August last year one of the leader’s main allies, Unite boss Len McCluskey, was reported to have tipped Emily Thornberry as someone who could carry on the Corbyn project.

Emily Thornberry has impressed at the despatch box

Ms Thornberry has impressed with her performances standing in for the leader at Prime Minister’s Questions and is seen as a unifying figure who could bring together various wings of the party.

Shadow ministers Rebecca Long-Bailey, Angela Rayner and Sir Keir Starmer are also potential contenders, while Lisa Nandy, Dan Jarvis and Chuka Umunna are seen as possible challengers from the back benches.

The left of the party increased its presence on Labour’s National Executive Committee this week, with Mr Lansman and two other Momentum-backed candidates now giving Mr Corbyn a majority on the body that holds sway in internal Labour decisions.

An early change that has followed the new arrivals is the ousting of the long-standing chair of a key Labour disciplinary panel.

Ann Black was removed from the Disputes Panel and replaced with Christine Shawcroft, a staunch ally of Mr Corbyn, something critics claimed is “unprecedented”.

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