Published in The Times – October 25th 2003
Their collective ages add up to 275. But official wisdom makes them forever young
‘because they are in politics’. They bounce about like a quintet of Mick Jaggers. For
their respective parties, they live and breathe the air of novelty and reform. Their
private love fetish is a pretty little adjective called NEW. Positioned for electoral
advantage between old Labour and hard Tory, these men choose change for the hell
of it. Whether in Government or Opposition, they have a Maoist desire to make
revolution permanent. Society not broken? They’ll fix it. And yet, time is taking its
Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Robin Cook and Iain Duncan Smith, to
take random samples, are in fact a clutch of ‘grumpy old men’. The current television
series of the same name (Fridays, BBC2) is presented by a cast of assorted rockers,
comics and actors but could it be a secret political satire on our top menopausal
males? I won’t be unkind and say that Will Self is even more handsome than Robin
Cook, but look at the evidence.
First, our beloved Prime Minister (Bill Nighy) is having a little trouble with his internal
fight-and-flight patterns and fibrillations. These are not necessarily age-related
although several medical authorities have mentioned excessive stress. They aren’t
life-threatening but can hurt like hell and give any man of 50 pause to wonder
whether he is really passing his days in a sensible fashion. The siren sounds of the
Island of Mustique must be a-calling.
Second, Gordon Brown (John Peel) is in temporary relief given the joyful news of the
birth of his much-wanted and desired offspring, upon which I congratulate him and
even more the woman who went to all that trouble. However, let us be fair. This is a
man who spends much of his time obsessionally playing a gramophone record called
“Roll Over Beethoven”, and more than one spin doctor at Number 10 has been
caught muttering about his psychological unfitness to replace the Prime Minister.
Then there’s John Prescott (Alf Smith), at 65 senior to the rest, side-stepping the
need for debate by punching opponents in the face and now this week calling Libby
Weiner (a woman of 44 with 20 years’ experience as a news reporter) a “silly girl” for
asking him to justify a £1.1 million pound refit of one of his residences. He qualifies
both as grumpy and sexist but, you know, a lot of pensioners are.
Robin Cook (Mr Self himself) also reminds me of Henry the Green Engine (“who went
into a tunnel and squeaked through his funnel and never came out again”). Muttering
into his diary as the boiler cools and the steam rises, Robin Cook grumbles that it is
unjust to find himself parked in a siding while the rest of the world surely realises he
is the only one who got it right all along. Oh yes, and he doesn’t like students
occupying flats above his own because they disturb his VIP security with their rotten
rock and roll.
Finally the Ides of Iain Duncan Smith (Richard Madeley without hair) a man more
assassinated against in his own lifetime than the late Queen Victoria. Not only has
he been reinvented with a new bark in the absence of bite (Tony Blair is apparently
“deceitful, incompetent, shallow, inefficient, corrupt, mendacious, fraudulent,
shameful, lying”) the opposition leader is now prone to jerky abstract expressionist
dance behaviour while giving talks to Conference. It’s a St Vitus dance of those who
splutter “Do you know who I am?” to be told by fellow inmates: “No, but if you ask Matron
she’ll tell you”.
In any other walk of life these men would be well aware that they are cresting the hill.
It should be autumn in their personal discontent. The age of 50? All have passed it.
In actuarial terms, they are on life’s pro-penultimate laps. In any parallel
employment, they would feel greater job insecurity than most politicians. Even ten
years ago, only 55 per cent of Britons over the age of 55 were in any form of paid
employment. The equivalent figure for France was 27 per cent and for Italy just 11
So could this be the fabled Andropause (reported at the weekend to be now
deserving of NHS research resources), the male equivalent of the female
Men obviously do not have a hormonal hiatus because they never bothered to
menstruate. Our hormonal production and fertility continue throughout life. However,
testosterone levels in men fall from an average of 21 units (nanomols per litre) at the
age of 30 to 13 units at 88. Free testosterone (the important measure for drive and
libido) falls from an average 42 units (nmols/l) at 30 to 18 units at 88. The question
is, does this endocrine decline become critical at around the age now reached by our
grumpy old politicians?
Consider the criteria of menopausal mid-life crisis in either sex. These include
reduced sex drive and enjoyment, mental and physical fatigue, mood swings,
depression, severe aches and pains, hot flushes, severe sweating especially at night,
a sense of failure, threat of or actual loss of job, bereavement, divorce, major money
anxieties, family worries, especially the children or a combination of any of these.
I leave it to your own judgement to fill in the blanks. Because if Tony doesn’t get hot
flushes and Gordon isn’t worried about our money, and if John is a stranger to mood
swings and Robin isn’t perturbed by his divorce, and poor old Iain hasn’t felt
threatened by the loss of his job, then I’m sweet 16 again.