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June Sarpong Headshot

The UK: No Country for Old Men

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Last week the country of my birth, the UK, chose a coalition government made up of two younger, untried leaders over the older, experienced but less media proficient Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Mr Brown's 13 years at the center of British Government as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Tony Blair and then as Prime Minister did not stop his governing Labour Party losing their majority in Parliament.

This election was the first UK election to introduce leadership debates where the leaders of the two main opposition parties -- the Conservatives (David Cameron) and the Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg) -- went head to head with the Prime Minister in three televised debates. The debates became the main focus of the campaign and the media's involvement in the campaign benefited Cameron and Clegg, both younger men more comfortable in front of the camera. Gordon Brown was not declared the winner any of the debates by the polls, instead mocked by commentators for his attempts at comedy and forced smile.

However Mr Brown's trademark grumpy-old-man syndrome was caught on camera a week before the election after a being questioned on immigration by a staunch Labour voter. The PM had to justify the government's record on managing immigration from Eastern Europe to a blue collar grandmother concerned about the effect this was having on jobs. The exchange appeared to go well despite the differing viewpoints and there were smiles and handshakes as they parted. Then the moment came where Gordon Brown's lack of media savvy became evident. He forgot to take off his microphone and was heard by the salivating media calling the lady he had just shaken hands with and smiled at a bigot. He later said he had misheard her when she asked "where are the immigrants flocking from?" None of the three men went on to secure a parliamentary majority and there followed a week of confusion and negotiation which resulted in the new comer Clegg taking his Liberal Democrat party in to a coalition government with Cameron's Conservative's. Politically, Labour and the Liberal Democrat policies are closer aligned than with the Conservatives, however it seems that the personal chemistry between the two younger men and similar backgrounds of David Cameron and Nick Clegg won, granting the premiership to David Cameron with Nick Clegg as his deputy.

Lately on both sides of the Atlantic we see our old stalwarts being eclipsed by younger models. The President was judged to to have out-quipped Jay Leno, the seasoned chat show host at the White House Correspondence Dinner, and joked that Leno's ratings were even worse than his own. Obama one of our youngest Presidents, seems eager to take on some of the old established interest groups on Wall St, in the health industry and now BP. With the Oil spill in the Gulf washing up on our shores the President is seeking to pass a bill making BP cover the full cost of the clean up operation in the Gulf of Mexico which has reached 300 million pounds ($450 million approx). In the past the financial liability of such companies who damaged our environment was limited to a set $75 million. So in effect, companies that polluted the environment got fined and then carried on with business as usual. A fine was just the cost of doing business.

Is choosing youth over experience going to be the norm in this fast paced mass media age? Does youth equal change and a greater willingness to take on established interests or is this the autocracy of the young and restless where there is no place for old men?

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