Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable are undeniably getting on a bit. The former is now 68, while the latter, at the age of 74, is only five years off the average age at which a UK male dies. Not only are they old, however, they also do old things. Jeremy Corbyn’s love affair with his North London allotment is well documented, as is his passion for jam-making.
Meanwhile Vince indulges in ballroom dancing and his choices on Desert Island Discs ranged from old classics such as ‘Love Letters on the Sand’ to even older classics: Mozart, Bach, Handel and Beethoven. Some see this as a barrier to Cable’s success. He has had to deny that he’s long in the tooth for the job as leader, whilst Jo Swinson’s team commenting that the replacement of Farron must not result in a switch “from the Dad to the Grandad”.
Yet age has not prevented Corbyn’s success; his vote in the general election instead sat at 64 percent in the 18-29 category. This might give hope to Cable. It suggests old age is not a barrier for this demographic, provided there is an appealing policy platform and image alongside. But Vince shouldn’t get his hopes up as a far greater barrier stands in his way: that of experience in high office.
Unfamiliarity with the reins of power seems to be a blessing instead of a curse these days. The largest political names of the past year have come from unexpected areas: Corbyn is of course one example, with the other obvious candidates being Trump, who swept aside establishment Republicans and then the establishment Democrat and Bernie Sanders, who at the age of 76 still a front-runner for 2020.
Meanwhile the youth vote is still suspicious of Cable’s stint in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, which featured the infamous backtrack on tuition fees and a sharp program of austerity.
It’s debatable to what extent these can be attributed to Cable and the Lib Dems, but what’s clear is that by straying too close to the political heart of Britain Cable has made himself damaged goods. He has been tried and tested, and is therefore of little interest, particularly to a youth vote more concerned with change than experience.
Cable will therefore need to present an image of dynamism and conviction if he wants to win a commanding vote, especially among the youth demographic. I suspect that even if he managed the unimpressive feat of being more interesting than Farron, he has already lingered too long for the tastes of many voters, both young and old.
They say that age is just a number, and for once it appears to be true. The problem is not Cable’s years, it’s his experience in Whitehall. In today’s politics, that experience won’t help him.