Is William Hague's the last of the long-haul political career? Photo: Getty
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Are we witnessing the death of the long-haul political career?

What William Hague's career trajectory tells us about British politics.

What does it say about British politics that William Hague is quitting the game at just 53? His decision to call time on a political career by retiring from parliament at next year’s general election is the personal story of this reshuffle.

Did too much come too soon for the second-youngest cabinet minister of the 20th century (36, beaten by 31 year-old Harold Wilson)? Has politics lost its lustre? Are the heights of ministerial office not quite as giddying as we mere mortals assumed?

Our politicians seem to be getting younger, peaking sooner and finding themselves in their career dotage when previous generations were only just looking to step up a gear.

A hunched, silver-haired Harold Wilson first became prime minister at 48 back in 1964. In his day he was referred to as “youthful.” Nye Bevan was the enfant terrible of Attlee’s government at the same age. Thatcher became PM at 54 while Churchill and Gladstone were still at the top of their game in their 80s. At one time, high office was a steep mountain to climb and the culmination of a life spent in public service.

Now, the ministerial ladder is much shorter. While the elevation of Liz Truss and Nicky Morgan to the cabinet is important because of their gender, it’s also significant because of their relative youth and newness. Morgan (41) and Truss (38) were only elected in 2010.

With so much now coming so quickly, public office increasingly seems to be something to enter and pass through as part of a longer working life. (Before Morgan, the last woman to hold the position of education secretary was a 36 year-old Ruth Kelly, who is now out of politics altogether and working in corporate banking).

Tony Blair’s decision to quit parliament as soon as he resigned as prime minister in 2007 seems to have set a trend. Many of the Blairite tribe vacated British politics soon after, usually through choice (Milburn, Hutton, Hoon, Byers, and Hewitt) and occasionally at the hands of the voters (Charles Clarke). Many have found their way into corporate sinecures.

Other Brown-era ministers have also decided that they’ve had their fill of Westminster. Shaun Woodward (55), Hazel Blears (58), Meg Munn (54) and Bob Ainsworth (at 62, the same age as Attlee when he first became PM), will step down next year, leaving Westminster during what should be their prime years.

Perhaps it’s the growing opportunities for former ministers to ply their trade (or contacts book) elsewhere, or it might be the recognition that the many sacrifices of a political life are perhaps not worth it in the end, but against the backdrop of an ageing population, it is surely a perverse trend.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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George Osborne’s plan to spend the tampon tax on women’s charities is simply crass politics

It makes us think that funds from other taxes – the government’s general pot of money not raised by a tax on tampons – is proper money. Men’s money. Money not to be channelled into women-only causes.

It is not a pretty scene. “Guys,” says a male special adviser in George Osborne’s office, as they work late into the night finishing off the Spending Review. “What about, like, women?”

“Hmm,” nods another, finishing off his Byron burger disguised in a McDonald’s bag. “You’re right. We haven’t put any women in it.”

“Maybe we should give some extra money to women’s charities? I think there are some left. How about it, lads?” moots somebody else. Probably a man.

Everyone stops what they’re doing. Someone removes his tie, and solemnly rolls his sleeves up.

“Money? Where from?”

“Obviously not man money! We need that for proper things!” laughs the kind heart who wishes to fund women’s charities. “We’ll get women to pay for it themselves.”

“How? They don’t have any money to spend because of our austerity programme hammering them disproportionately hard!” chorus some Treasury bods in the background.

“Well, they pay for those luxurious little cotton thingies. Theyre always buying those. It’s some kind of monthly tax, I think. We could spend that on them?”

“Brilliant!” cries the Chancellor. And the most ridiculous announcement in this year’s Autumn Statement is born in a wave of high-fives and fitful backroom testosterone.

Yes, to much worshipful braying, Osborne stated with glee and pride in this year’s Autumn Statement that the VAT raised from women’s sanitary products – the “tampon tax” – will be spent on women’s health and support charities:

“There are many great charities that work to support vulnerable women, indeed a point that was raised in Prime Minister’s Questions. And my honourable friend the new member for Colchester has proposed to me a brilliant way to give them more help.

“300,000 people have signed a petition arguing that no VAT should be charged on sanitary products. Now, we already charge the lowest 5 per cent rate allowable under European law, and we’re committed to getting the EU to change its rules.

“Until that happens, I’m going to use the £15m a year raised from the tampon tax to fund women’s health charities and support charities. The first £5m will be distributed to the Eve Appeal, Safe Lives, Women’s Aid and the Haven, and I invite bids from other such good causes.”

It all ended with the Colchester MP and man Will Quince being patted on the back by fellow backbenchers for having such a tidy little idea:

Now, the government can’t help it that there is VAT on women’s sanitary products. Only the EU can change that. And, of course, any money being given to charities for vulnerable women is welcome – especially in light of the financial trouble women’s refuges have been facing due to cuts.

But this idea is crass politics. The way they’ve concocted and framed it is all wrong. It suggests that only money paid by women should support women’s services; if women are suffering, then it’s just the responsibility of female taxpayers. It’s their problem, and they should pay for it.

It also makes us think that funds from other taxes – the government’s general pot of money not raised by a tax on tampons – is proper money. Men’s money. Money not to be channelled into women-only causes. Ironic, as men should probably be picking up the tab for domestic abuse if anyone’s going to.

Of course, the government does spend general money on women’s charities – tampon tax revenue is just an extra boost. But the point is, why didn’t the Chancellor say that? Why didn’t he tell us how much the government is spending on women’s charities? And how it plans to make up for how hard domestic violence refuges have been hit by cuts? Cuts that are part of his austerity programme, by the way.

A neat little channel of a few million pounds from a wildly misjudged tax (tampons are a “luxury item” apparently) to a few women’s charities shouldn’t be championed as a genius idea by the Chancellor and the male MP whose brainchild it is. As the Labour MP Jess Phillips yelled in the chamber: “You’re not paying it, George. I am!”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.