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Anonymous slurs about Corbyn’s health really are a step too far

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The worst reason for thinking Jeremy Corbyn would be a bad prime minister is that he is too old. If senior civil servants think his policy on Brexit makes no sense, or that abolishing tuition fees is a handout to the middle classes, or that his foreign policy would embolden dictators, these are important questions that should be discussed.

But suggesting anonymously that Corbyn is “too ill” to be prime minister, as a “senior civil servant” is quoted as saying in today’s Times, is quite wrong. I did not agree with the BBC suggesting without evidence that Gordon Brown took antidepressants in 2009, and I do not agree with civil servants – or anyone else – claiming without evidence that Corbyn is “too frail” and “losing his memory”.

It is legitimate to point out that Corbyn is older than Michael Foot was at the 1983 election, and that he would be, at 72, the oldest prime minister on first taking office if he won the 2022 election. But he would still be five years younger, and less pickled in alcohol, than Churchill was when he began his second term in 1951 at the age of 77. Churchill certainly was, as Roy Jenkins put it, gloriously unfit for office; and officials covered up a stroke he suffered in 1953.

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