Friday, September 24, 2010

Is Ken about to strike a blow against the cult of youth in UK politics?

If Oona King had been selected as Labour's London mayoral candidate today, and a Tory spokesman had reacted by poking fun at her gender or ethnicity, that spokesman would probably already have been fired. So why is it seemingly perfectly acceptable for him to instead sarcastically characterise Ken Livingstone as a "game old boy" who has been "exhumed" by Labour? It's hard to escape the conclusion that ageism is still considered a legitimate mine for political discourse, where racism and sexism long since ceased to be.

Even sober political observers are today wondering if Labour have made a mistake solely on the grounds of Ken's age, with Mike Smithson of Political Betting asking -

"But is Ken the right man to be the flag-bearer? In politics generally the baton is being passed to a younger generation. If Ed Miliband gets it tomorrow then Ken will be a quarter of a century older than his party leader."

Quite honestly, that consideration is gloriously irrelevant. Labour has at least an 80% chance of reclaiming the mayoralty in 2012, and that has very little to do with Ken Livingstone at all, let alone his date-of-birth or his hairline. My fears for next year's Holyrood election are primarily based on the fact that, as the party (wrongly) perceived as the "alternative to the Tories", Labour can expect to prosper when an unpopular Tory government is in power at Westminster - and that logic applies even in an election where the Tories are not their opponents. It will apply a hundred times over in part 2 of the Boris and Ken show. Hopefully one of the effects of the outcome will be to make people question their irrational assumptions about the value of always picking the younger candidate, regardless of other qualities.

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