I was puzzling over a comment of Chris Huhne's when, in throwing his hat into the ring for the LibDem leadership contest, he said that Ming Campbell was "victim of a Camelot obsession", I was thinking of round tables, bold knights, the treacherous Lady Guinevere. Luckily BBC's Nick Robinson's blog added an alternative reading of the comment: Camelot "the name given to the court of JFK whose presidency was identified with youth, good looks and glamour". Nick wonders if Huhne is warning the party against such an obsession that focuses on media portrayal of peripheral elements of the qualities of a leader.
But there is a problem for Huhne if this is the case. It seems the JFK-esque 'Camelot obsession' is rife in British politics. The media cannot quite decide whether David Miliband is credible or not due to is youth, but the perception of youth around Brown is often voiced. Cameron's team were described by William Rees-Mogg for one as 'young guns', "more effective" and "cooler under fire" - arise George 'Sir Lancelot' Osborne, and that is no dig at him but of perhaps a perception that he is the youthful knight ready to challenge the dragon who feels (or felt perhaps) secure in his lair on Downing Street.
The point that is in danger of being missed is that there has been a shift since Blair became prime minister. Politics is no longer a job for someone with significant life experience, it needs both youth, energy as well as ability. Perhaps this is the problem then for many for whom politics has been a long career. The media appear to decide who has the right qualities and who does not, and this can be reinforced by the individual politician. It was said that, despite being the same age, side by side Ming Campbell and his predecessor once removed Paddy Ashdown did not appear the same age. Ashdown appeared to have more vitality it was claimed.
So perhaps now it is impossible to believe that a leader with experience, and who is described as possessing positive qualities: "honourable, honest, straightforward and has outstanding judgment", is likely to be perceived as the right man or woman for the job. Maybe the 'Camelot obsession' is not simply one that clouds decisions within parties, but also the media perceptions of a leader, and more importantly the perceptions of that leader out in wider society. Perhaps it is simply unprofessional to be perceived to be too old to be a modern politician, and although it is hard to say what a modern politician ideally should be, there is a benchmark somewhere that is held up and judgements are made accordingly.