Ken Livingstone: many happy returns

Happy birthday dear Ken, happy birthday dear Ken. Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday dear Ken!

It’s the big 65 today for the Duracell bunny of British politics  – whose age has sometimes been seen as an obstacle to his goal of retaking the mayoralty (should he win the 2012 election, he will be nearly 71 by the time of the next one.)

But since ageism is a terrible thing, and since it is Ken’s special day, I thought I’d lay off for once and give him a little present: the fruits of my extensive research on Pensioners In Power.

It is true that Ken’s opponents, Oona King and Boris Johnson, are 42 and 45, respectively (Boris, spookily, has almost the same birthday as Ken; he turns 46 on Saturday.) It is true that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is 43.

It is also true that Ken was first elected to political office in 1971 (Boris was six years old at the time).

But there is hope. At least three people in frontline British political office are older than Ken – the Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young; another Ken, the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke; and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable (a London MP, sometimes spoken of as a potential mayoral candidate himself – that would be interesting.) Clarke has been an MP since 1970. (They might well, of course, all have retired by 2012 or 2016.)  

Most importantly (and I’m conscious that I’m now giving Ken a fact he’ll use, endlessly, on the campaign trail), Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, is 68, more than three years older than Livingstone – and successfully overturned the city’s term limit law before winning re-election last November.

British politics may be an increasingly ageist trade – three of the last four prime ministers have been the youngest in democratic history at the time they were elected. But the way it works is not always straightforward. As Lib Dem leader, Ming Campbell copped a lot of “pensioner” gibes – but was actually slightly younger than his predecessor, Paddy Ashdown.

The problem, as I’ve always said, is not Ken’s age – it’s the distinctly elderly nature of his policies.

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