While many have seen Theresa May’s accession to Prime Minister as striking a blow for feminism, she has also struck a mighty blow for indolence. With George Osborne and David Cameron pushed towards the exit, those of us in our mid-30’s who are still at the thinking-about-doing-something-at-some-point stage of our lives can rest easy a while longer.
This has always been a difficult age. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a rockstar, given that I am well past the maximum age for the 27 club, (at my age Keith Richards was firmly in the Swiss blood transfusion clinic). I also know that even some of life’s greatest proponents of slacking are already well ahead of me. When Roger Waters wrote Time, Pink Floyd’s great hymn to procrastination, ‘and then one day you find 10 years has gone behind you, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun,’ he was 28. At 26, Jerome K Jerome was even younger when he wrote, ironically, ‘On being Idle’.
Prior to the Cameroons, there was always politics to have as a vague undecided ambition. This is why Theresa May and her very grey cabinet are such a breath of fresh air. Cameron and Osborne were busy capturing the Tory leadership during their thirties, but at the same age, our new Prime Minister was working blamelessly at the Association for Payment Clearing Services. Admittedly she was also a local councillor but she was hardly exhibiting that single-minded desire for power as shown by her predecessors whose 20’s and 30’s were predicated on ruthless and realised ambition.
The same bonfire of the ambitious is visible on the Labour benches. At 67 Jeremy Corbyn is an indolent’s pin-up. He entered Parliament aged 34 and remained on the backbenches for the next 32 years, Meanwhile for all the trepidation over the candidates in the US elections, gerascophobes of the world can at least rejoice as Hillary Clinton (aged 68) does battle with Donald Trump (looking good for 70).
As someone who has always frantically looked at people’s birthdays when confronted with the rich and famous this can only be a comfort. On hearing of anyone vaguely successful under the age of 30, I am apt to feel like Julius Caesar gazing upon the statue of Alexander the Great, who was moved to tears because ‘at an age when Alexander had already conquered the whole world, he himself had done nothing in the least epoch making.’
At least Caesar had an excuse. Before he and Pompey tore it up, the Roman Senate had the Cursus Honorum, limiting even the most junior political positions to those over the age of 30. The same was true in ancient Athens, meaning that at a time when life expectancy was around 50, holders of political office had to be firmly in middle age. In modern terms this would be the equivalent of limiting political positions to those over the age of 55, making Theresa May and her cabinet just right. Long live the gerontocracy!
There is also hope that this revolution can extend to the arts. Idlers spending a lazy Sunday watching re-runs of Sharpe might recognise a younger Julian Fellowes playing a bit-part as the Prince Regent. A decade later he was winning an Oscar for Gosford Park and now sits in the House of Lords. Likewise the surviving rockers from the 1960’s have shown that age is no bar to headlining Glastonbury or selling out the O2 Arena, which the Stones and Fleetwood Mac did last year. Meanwhile their youthful emulators are relegated to doing breathless cover versions of their songs on adverts.
My all-time favourite pin up for the gerontocracy however is the publisher Christopher MacLehose who emulates two fine qualities of lackadaisy and success late in life. After turning up for his Oxford finals half an hour late as he was in the middle of reading a PG Wodehouse novel ‘and I knew it would distract me terribly if I didn’t finish it,’ MacLehose went on to have a modest career in publishing translations of foreign books. Then during his sixties, he took on the works of a deceased Swedish novelist whose estate was having difficulty finding an English publisher. The writer was Stieg Larsson and MacLehose’s publishing house became an overnight success.