Should there be an age cap on political leaders?

Corbyn may find himself in No. 10 at age 78 - to the chagrin of some Labourites

Corbyn campaign trail
Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail ahead of the British general election last year
(Image credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images )

The more shadowy figures in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow government are privately briefing that the Labour leader may be too old to lead the party into the next election.

If the 68-year-old Labour leader wins an election in 2022, they point out, Corbyn would be the oldest UK prime minister ever to assume office for the first time, with a promise to voters that he’d still be in Downing Street five years later.

Much has been made about Corbyn’s advancing age since GQ’s editor described Corbyn’s cover shoot for the magazine as “like a grandpa” being “pushed around” at a family photo session - although GQ later backtracked, admitting editor Dylan Jones wasn’t even present during the shoot.

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Yesterday, Corbyn’s team hit back at detractors who questioned his performance during Prime Minister’s Questions this week, describing the Labour leader as “extremely energetic” and “extremely vigorous”.

“The leader’s spokesman denied the 68-year-old had a ‘senior moment’ at PMQs and said speculation about his ability to continue in the demanding role for another decade were ‘nonsense’,” the Daily Mail reports.

Time for a younger generation?

But with age and health questions swirling around not only Corbyn but also 71-year-old US President Donald Trump, is it time political parties considered an age limit to make room for a younger generation of leaders?

France debated an age cap after a 2015 government-backed report concluded that an upper limit would open politics to more young people, Newsweek reported at the time. France recommended banning politicians over 70 from standing for election, but the prospect provoked accusations of “ageism” from French MPs.

Bernard Debre, then a 70-year-old Republican MP, told public broadcaster Europe 1 that an age cap would be a “denial of democracy”, Newsweek said, noting that such a ban would have prevented Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill from taking office in their day, as both served in their 70s.

Africa has also grappled with how best to make room for a younger generation of politicians. Uganda scrapped its 75-year age cap for presidential candidates earlier this month. Far from applauding, however, critics have complained that the move will allow 73-year-old Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to remain in power indefinitely, Reuters reports.

The judicial solution

Perhaps the best example for UK politicians can be found at home, within Britain’s judiciary.

The UK operates a tiered retirement system for the judiciary - with a retirement age of 75 for Supreme Court Justices and Court of Appeal judges, and 70 for all other judges.

The tiered approach is designed to retain the most experienced judges at the highest level to assist in development of the law, while ensuring posts are available at the lower levels for talented individuals, according to a UK parliamentary publication.

But could a similar approach work in government? When the UK leaves the European Union, it will no longer be bound by an age discrimination directive imposed by Europe. The issue seems likely to require years of parliamentary debate, however. And for now, at least, Corbyn isn’t budging.

According to the Daily Mail: “The veteran left-winger has made clear he has no intention of standing down before the nation goes to the polls again - saying his diet of ‘porridge and energy bars’ will keep him going.”

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