Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bedblockers or Wise Old Owls?

I was interested to read in the East Anglian Daily Times that John Gummer has announced he will be standing again at the next election. Believe it or not, he's 70 this year, although he could pass for a man fifteen years younger. His neighbour, Sir Michael Lord, is the same age and is also standing again. This will no doubt produce a lot of harumphing from eager younger candidates who regard people like Gummer and Lord as the political equivalent of 'bedblockers'. However, people should not lose sight of the fact that it is important to have a number of 'wise old owls' within a parliamentary party, which will no doubt be dominated by under 40s. Surely they key issue is whether, at that age, an MP has something further to contribute beyong reminiscing about great political adventures of their past. Sir Peter Tapsell is a good example of an MP who is advanced in years but is listened to with great respect when he speaks in the Chamber.

Interestingly, the number of MPs over the age of 70 is on the increase, according the figures compiled by the House of Commons Library, but only 14 out of 646 MPs - a mere 2% - fall into that age group. But in the wider population, more than 20% are over the age of 70. Politicians get very hung up on ethnic minorities and women being fairly represented in Parliament, but when did you last hear anyone make the case for more MPs of pensionable age?

Graphic Hattip: House of Commons Library


Donal Blaney said...

Is that a self-interested plea for a seat when you are in your 60s, Mr Dale?


Unsworth said...

Given your statistics it's clear that MPs do not therefore represent the population demographics. Why not? We get all this screaming about ethnicity and gender - but precious little about age. Is this not a job for Harman?

I have occasionally watched Gummer in action in Parliament. Some years ago he gave one of the finest speeches I have ever heard from the back benches. I doubt that experience will be repeated - largely because of my tinnitus. However, he is very active in Parliament - which is a great deal more than can be said for many much younger MPs.

Plato said...

Hear hear for more oldies, we all get there in the end - hopefully...

Malcolm Redfellow said...

But in the wider population, more than 20% are over the age of 70. Politicians get very hung up on ethnic minorities and women being fairly represented in Parliament, but when did you last hear anyone make the case for more MPs of pensionable age?

I suppose as one of those of "pensionable age", I should be nodding in agreement and with enthusiasm. The trouble is, all passion is spent.

That said, and hardly à propos, can anyone aid my memory? Who was the (North-eastern? Labour?) MP who spent most of his time in the bar? I recall a (Michael White?) story of this guy being accosted by a Whip in situ and being told he was a (yes, wait for it! No asterisks!) "cunt", his reply was, "There's a lot of cunts out there, and they deserve someone here to represent them."

Paul Halsall said...

It's quite remarkable how youthful the House of Commons is compared to the American Congress.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Malcolm Redfellow hit upon a constituency, hitherto ignored, of which I am a proud member. Good to know I am represented.

However, I Do not agree that "all passion is spent". I am far more politicised than I was 30 years ago - even 10 years ago. Oldies have an enormous capacity for not giving a shit what people think about them. Ken Clark has it, and there must be many others.

Not giving a shit, being comfortable enough not to fiddle your expenses, being able to tell the whips to eff off and not having the stench of brazen ambition about one is an asset.

At 55, I am comfortable in my skin. I still have a lot to learn and I can be better, but at my age it will be on my terms, in my own time, and that makes for clarity of vision and quiet confidence.

More oldies, please.

albertmbankment said...

Not sure if this question has been addressed, recently if at all, but here goes:

When the present government gets heaved out on its collective ear, there are going to be masses of relatively experienced 'politicians' (for want of a better word) who are going to be chucked out on the street. So far so obvious.

When the Tories going their thoroughly deserved kicking in 1997, it didn't matter all that much. The Cabinet, for the most part, were in their 50s and 60s and simply shimmered off to the Lords and a clutch of non-exec sinecures. They're still around, copping a few quid as they nod sagely through 'Newsnight' and various recent history programmes. Their record was, for the most part, successful and they were able to capitalise on it.

This mob, by contrast, are in their 40s and early 50s - with some even younger. They are, at the moment, staring at a decade either out of power or out of a seat altogether. Their record is meagre at best, and thoroughly discredited for the most part. They will leave behind a nation deep in decades of debt, loathed throughout the Muslim world, despised elsewhere, stuck in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, with a declining financial services industry and a vanishing manufacturing base, facing a massive energy gap as the power stations approach the end of their economic lives and with a confused transport policy. Education is wretched. Health services are modestly better.

So, they have only a decade of dreadful mistakes as their collective and individual CVs. They have no hinterland. They have done nothing but politics all their little lives. By the time they can think about a come-back, there will be another generation of gingerbread men and women climbing over them. What will they do?

I mean, I don't really care too much. I'd rather like them to sit in sackcloth and ashes on College Green for a decade, as an admonitory lesson to their replacements. Will 'Today' be expanded to 6 hours daily, to give them all a chance to grumble self-righteously and grab a free coffee and doughnut? Are there enough quangos for them all to sneak a chairmanship? No PLC board is going to want a single one of the talentless, opinionated bunch.

Goshm isn't it going to be fun to watch them wriggle. Popcorn, anyone?

Glyn H said...

Gummer should go on grounds of good taste and his spectacularly wrong-headed views on climate change, abortion and Europe!

Jimmy Edwards once had a comedy programme called ‘Gummers and a bicky’. Gummer has had quite a big enough bite of the taxpayer provided biscuit and is far to close to the discredited Heath-style policies ‘Ohmygod – Britain is broken and must cling to the EU to survive – and I’ll give them our fishing just to help sweeten the deal’.

His age is of secondary consequence. We need Conservative MP’s in whom the electorate have confidence and not seem a rather tired joke.

strapworld said...

I believe that MP's should not have 'a job for life' if they happen to find a 'safe' constituency.

If there is a retirement age -and I await with great interest the outcome of the High Court on the recent case- then Parliament must reflect and honour that decision.

I also believe in a fully elected second chamber and, perhaps, the criteria should remain broadly as it was, only those that have reached State Retirement Age can stand for election to the second chamber.

Richard said...

His son, Ben, is standing as the Tory candidate for Ipswich. He's thought likely to win. I can't think of any other father and son who were MPs at the same time, except the Benn dynasty.

Richard Abbot said...

70 is the new 50!

Simon Gardner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Gardner said...

Gum-gum will forever be associated in my mind with BSE when he stuffed a hamburger down daughter Cordelia’s throat.

I haven’t touched beef since.

John said...

Why should MP's be "representitive" exactly?

If a well educated, very intelligent women stood for every seat, clearly being the best candidate, then why shouldn't the house of commons consist of those 650 women?

The same if they were muslim, or jews, or christian, or even MEN!

Surely as a society as a whole, we still believe in success based on merit? Surely as a whole, the nonsense that is positive discriminaton is still opposed by the majority?

Otherwise, we'd be ignoring the best candidates because they are from the wrong "group", and selecting "weaker" candidates from "the right group".

My history's a little sketchy, but didn't the last time we went down that path, some guy called "Martin Luthor King" preach against it, in favour of equality?

Perhaps he was wrong though, and equality is weak candidates from minorities being hoisted to high office to show everyone how we don't discriminate any more. Even though by doing that we're discriminating against better candidates along the way.

Silly season is well and truly here

Alex said...

We would like to think that the MP is elected as the best person for the job, but in a safe seat the incumbent is often there until way past their best.

Having said that, I have no sympathy for whingers who say these peole are bed-blocking. If the younger would be candidates really think they can do a better job they should stand against them. The reality is that what they really crave is the free ride that comes from a party endorsement.

DC said...

I played 'Knock and Run' on his house once, many many years ago. He lives in the middle of nowhere and we had to run for ages and hide in a ditch.

Not that that has anything to do with whether he should still stand.

The Grim Reaper said...

As long as an MP is capable of doing his or her job properly, there's no reason why they can't go on for as long as they like.

Now any chance of them legislating to allow everyone else to do the same?

Chris Paul said...

We had a candidate in a parliamentary selection who used the fact that 50-59 was modal to make their advanced age a strength. Didn't work. 5th of 5.

They came in (I think)

2nd youngest

Chris Paul said...

John 4:20 pm - Hard of thinking I reckon. As a whole we tend to pick from about one sixth or less of the population. This is because of barriers to entry and institutional factors ... and re-selections of course. Picking from one sixth of the adult population is not reasonable behaviour if you want the best.

Even picking the odd duffer through favouring the 5/6ths is not as bad as sticking with the 1/6th exclusively.

ValeriKat said...

Michael Lord is great and actually seems to care what his constituents think.Maybe some of the old fashioned virtues like service still exist with our older MPs The deputy speaker will definitely get my vote at the next election

Rush-is-Right said...

Sir Peter Tapsell is a good example of an MP who is advanced in years but is listened to with great respect when he speaks in the Chamber.

True. But there won't be many others and Gummer will certainly not be among them.

Matthew said...

It's a good point Mr Dale has made: I recently examined the ages of MPs for a project and it is clear that there are increasingly too many MPs who have (partly because of their age, but also partly because of their career paths) very little real experience. Similarly, there are very few very old MPs and I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Dr Richard Taylor, one of the only independent MPs in Parliament, and at 75 he is as astute and intelligent as one could hope an MP to be.

What is interesting is that even if we had more MPs of pensionable ages, the fact that they are well paid and pensioned means that MPs can't have ever experienced the problems of having the prospect of a very poor retirement.

Unsworth said...

@ Chris Paul

"if you want the best."

And your definition of 'the best' is what, exactly? Any criteria here?

Would you not regard applicants as being a self-selecting group?