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Page last updated at 13:12 GMT, Monday, 12 April 2010 14:12 UK

What is best age to be PM?

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

When David Cameron mentions The Smiths or some other pop cultural touchstone of a certain vintage does it set your teeth on edge or do you feel a little glow of nostalgia and fellow feeling?

Tony Adams
Tony Adams is the same age as David Cameron

The answer will not just depend on whether you are a Conservative supporter or not - but on how old you are.

For Mr Cameron is someone who came of age in the 1980s. It is the decade that will have inevitably shaped his political outlook and attitudes, as well as his taste in indie rock music.

And if he succeeds next month in entering Number 10, then the eighties generation will truly have inherited the earth.

For those who spent the 1980s listening to The Smiths, this is a slightly alarming thought. It really will be our time (I must declare an interest here, having just turned 41 myself).

Some of us are still coming to the terms with the fact that we will never play football professionally.

Dangerously callow

Could we handle being prime minister?

To watch the TV coverage of the general election, you would imagine the main qualification for running the country is to have a young family and a photogenic wife.

Mark Lamarr
Mark Lamarr shares a birthday with Nick Clegg

But it was not that long ago that 43 - the age of Mr Cameron and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg - would have been seen as dangerously callow.

Experience in a prime minister was seen as far more important than youthful dynamism.

No one would have dared call Churchill past it, although most agree that by the time he reached the end of his second stint as prime minister, at the age of 81, he probably was.

That all changed, for better or worse, with Tony Blair, who was 43 when he swung into Downing Street, guitar case in hand.

Like Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, he was lucky that politics is one of the few fields where you can still be described as young at the age of 43.

Arctic Monkeys

It is a different story in many other professions.

Footballer Tony Adams, who was born within 24 hours of Mr Cameron, won 66 caps for England, beat alcoholism, wrote a bestselling autobiography, and founded a world-renowned clinic for sportspeople struggling with similar addictions.

But like most footballers his playing days were over in by his mid-30s and his efforts to carve out a new career in management appear to have foundered for now.

Steve Harley
Steve Harley - pictured here in his 70s pomp - is Gordon Brown's age

Mr Clegg shares a birthday with Mark Lamarr - a big name comedian in the 1990s and the early part of the last decade, whose profile has been somewhat lower in recent years.

Politicians, by contrast, are only just getting into their stride by their early 40s and, at the same time, they are not judged over the hill when most people would be looking forward to retirement.

Gordon Brown, at 59, is old enough to be Mr Cameron or Mr Clegg's uncle.

But apart from a few ill-judged references to the Arctic Monkeys, which he always insists were misreported, he has never tried to get "down with the kids".

'Nasty underworld'

He has made experience his calling card and never tires of telling Mr Cameron it is "no time for a novice".

Despite this, age has barely been an issue at this general election - perhaps because it is the first where the leaders of the three main parties all have young children.

Whoever wins on 6 May, civil servants and aides will be tripping over toys in the corridors of Downing Street for years to come.

Mr Brown was born within a few days of rock singers Chris Rea and Steve Harley, both of whom have faded from the spotlight somewhat in recent years.

Harley, the one-time Cockney Rebel, whose biggest hit Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) was in 1975, and who was born a week after Mr Brown in February 1951, is not a fan of his age-a-like.

In fact, he does not have much time for politics in general: "It is a shady, nasty underworld of a place," preferring what he sees as the more honest and straightforward world of pop.

But he may have more in common with the Labour leader than he would care to admit. He confesses to having become more impatient as he grows older: "You get more intolerant of bozos. People who don't know how to behave properly."

He also has a bit of a problem with the media: "My problem is that broadcasters think I only wrote one song."

And he is definitely not a fan of dwelling on the past. Like Mr Brown, May is going to be a big month for him - he has a new album and tour to promote. Life, he insists, is sweet.

Does the age of the party leaders matter, is there a good age to PM? Add your comments using the form below.

I am 35 and would much rather be represented by someone who understands the problems facing people in their 30s and 40s who are currently and will in the future be funding the ever aging population and the early retirees of the older generations. As a generation who will inherit all the problems caused by 50+ I would prefer a younger leader who has a chance of understanding.
Sara, Manchester

The best PM we ever had was Churchill and he was 65 when he took office. Experience is the best quality to have.
Colin, Tonbridge

Being trustworthy, honest, and driven to succeed are far more important factors than the Prime ministers age.
Michael, Bracknell

I wonder if 40ish is an age where people should be starting to become politicians. It's hard to believe that people who've been in politics their entire lives can be truly representative of those of us out here in the real world.
Patrick, London

Over 65 is probably too old now. Simply because of the amount of work and travelling involved and under 40 is too young because you don't have enough experience of life.
Steve, Huddersfield

Personally, I'd favour maturity and wisdom over youth any day. As for young children in Downing Street - mon dieu! They should have left home so the PM can concentrate on the job in hand, not still worrying about sleepless nights from teething (there will be plenty of other things to keep him awake).
JJ Jackson, London

There's a football phrase, that stands out; if you're good enough, you're old enough.
Mike H, Hook

I do think age and experience within Parliament are very key factors in dealing with British Politics. Yet you can't rule out exceptions such as Cameron or Clegg who pop up on the scene. One view I take is that, with a young leader, usually a more experienced member of the cabinet is included, in Clegg's case, Vince Cable, for the Tories, Ken Clarke... I do think, however, a prime minister in his 80s is too old to lead the country; someone in their teens too young. This election, age doesn't seem an issue.
Nathan, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

I wouldn't like anyone younger than Mr Clegg or Mr Cameron. I think at their age they have enough life experience and are in touch with the latest opinions of the public about the issues they are dealing without an army of informers. In my opinion Mr Brown is getting to the age where he is having to rely on his staff to know what people think about certain issues.
Jacob , Porthaethwy, ynys mon

Not so long ago the media took apart Menzies Campbell as a potential leader on account of his age. He was in his 60s. Anyone who enters this ring who is older than Clegg or Cameron stands in danger of media ridicule. The media wouldn't let Churchill stand anymore.
Lynsey, London

What age you are, what music you grew up listening to, what party you belong to... irrelevant and relevant at the same time. Citing your influences is a common way to establish credibility in music and the arts but hanging your coat on the past could be seen as being less than receptive to the present. The challenge for each leader is to bring their experiences to how they deal with the present, not the past. If UK life expectancy is just under 80 years, then surely half that time is long enough to gather the experience necessary to do the job, assuming the individuals in question have spent that time well and continue to learn each day.
Fudoki, Winchester

William Pitt the Younger became what we now call Prime Minister at the age of 24. He is arguably one of the best leaders this country has had. I don't believe someone's age is as important as their underlying character.
Charles, Bristol

As a teenager, I'm not interested in seeing someone trying to connect with "da yoof". Apparently, they all think we listen to the Arctic Monkeys and watch the X Factor and Dr Who. I would much rather see someone who had experience and knowledge - I'm voting because I want someone to be prime minister, not for someone to be my best friend.
James, Newcastle


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