Barely five weeks ago, Theresa May fired George Osborne from her new government. So the news that Mr Osborne has signed with the Washington Speakers Bureau, where he will enjoy large fees for addressing after-dinner business audiences, strongly suggests that he is reconciled to heading for the political afterlife.
There are several recent precedents. John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all passed this way before him, joining the Elysian fields circuit, never to return to active politics. Yet at least those three former prime ministers are all well into their 60s and 70s now. Mr Osborne, by contrast, is still only 45 years of age. Surely he has something still to offer before entering the nether world.
It may seem perverse to want more from a Conservative chancellor who became a byword for austerity and who outstayed his time at the Treasury. But the wastage rate among modern politicians is disturbing. Mr Osborne’s career may be shot at 45. Ed Miliband threw in the towel as Labour leader last year when he was the same age. His brother David left British politics at 47. Nick Clegg is reportedly ready to quit Westminster at 49. David Cameron, also 49, is the youngest former prime minister of modern times, shaving three years off Mr Blair’s own early departure at 52.
Yet such concerns may be premature. If Jeremy Corbyn, 67, retains the Labour leadership he will find himself, after Theresa May’s October birthday, facing the first 60-year-old prime minister since Margaret Thatcher’s final years in Number 10. Britain will not have had two sexagenarians confronting each other at the despatch box since the days of Churchill and Attlee more than 60 years ago. In America, Barack Obama’s successor next January will either be 68-year-old Hillary Clinton or 70-year-old Donald Trump. Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Vladimir Putin have all reached their bus pass years.
It is possible that politics has discovered its own self-correcting mechanism. The cult of youthful leaders that Bill Clinton and Mr Blair embodied in the 1990s, and which Mr Cameron and Mr Obama continued, may simply have run its course. Although Labour has tended to promote younger candidates than the Tories, the average age of MPs at the start of the current parliament was around 50, a figure that has not changed much in more than two decades. Younger leadership may simply have gone out of fashion.
Even so, it is hard to look at the green benches of Westminster and not regret the absence of men and women of experience. Kenneth Clarke on the Tory side and Margaret Beckett on Labour’s stand out as veterans these days, but would not have been so conspicuous a generation or two ago. Less than 20 years after the New Labour landslide, almost no major figure from that era still sits in the Commons. There are several reasons for that, but one consequence has been the much remarked lack of big names in Labour leadership contests since 2010.
Something similar, of which Mr Osborne is symptomatic, may now start to happen on the Tory side over the coming decade. The former chancellor has probably passed his own sell-by date as a potential party leader. Yet he and the other prematurely promoted and discarded 40-somethings should surely stay on in a parliament to which they have much to contribute as they start to go grey.
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