Older gen­er­a­tion could have most to fear from Brexit

The Herald - - OPINION - DOUG MARR

THE “grey vote” was prob­a­bly cru­cial in set­tling the out­comes of both the 2014 Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence and the 2016 EU ref­er­enda. If it was, we oldies may well dis­cover to our cost, the wis­dom of be­ing canny in what we wish for. Nei­ther referendum cam­paign was over­bur­dened by ra­tio­nal think­ing. The out­come of the EU referendum in par­tic­u­lar was set­tled by dog whis­tle ar­gu­ments ap­peal­ing largely to in­stinct and ill-founded prej­u­dices. We pay more than our share, im­mi­grants are tak­ing our jobs and free load­ing on the NHS and wel­fare sys­tem. The UK is be­ing de­nied the sun-dap­pled up­lands. The right-wing press says so, so it must be true.

It’s pos­si­ble those sen­ti­ments res­onate most loudly amongst the older gen­er­a­tion. Our take on life is gen­er­ally con­ser­va­tive. We’re nos­tal­gic for the good old days of Em­pire, re­spect for author­ity, Span­gles, curvy bananas and black foot­ball boots. Turn the clock back and all will be well. Or will it?

Young and old would be wise to con­sider the EU referendum in its wider con­text. Leav­ing has al­ways been part of the far-right agenda.

The EU has long been an anath­ema to a sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity within the Con­ser­va­tive Party. Its leg­is­la­tion lim­its the money-mak­ing ca­pac­ity of the wealthy and of­fers tire­some pro­tec­tion to the weaker mem­bers of so­ci­ety. The referendum was David Cameron’s ill-judged at­tempt to re­solve in­ter­nal con­flict within its ranks. That turned out well, didn’t it Dave?

The referendum was a heaven-sent op­por­tu­nity for those wish­ing to roll back the state. Here was the chance to re­verse half a cen­tury of pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion. In a ruggedly in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic post-brexit Bri­tain who needs laws on min­i­mum wages, work­ing hours, health and safety and job se­cu­rity? And while we’re at it, let’s look again at nanny state reg­u­la­tion that pro­hibits send­ing chil­dren up chim­neys.

The right-wing agenda is al­ready rolling, largely at the ex­pense of the weak. The Univer­sal Credit sham­bles fur­ther marginalises the most vul­ner­a­ble. In­creas­ing num­bers of fam­i­lies rely on char­ity and food banks. Ben­e­fit cuts put more young peo­ple on the streets. Between three and four mil­lion chil­dren live in poverty.

As the eco­nomic fan­tasy of Brexit un­rav­els, fur­ther sac­ri­fices will be re­quired of those least able to give. With apolo­gies to Martin Niemoller, they have al­ready come for the young, the sick, the dis­abled and the un­em­ployed. Who’s left?

That’s an awk­ward ques­tion for we over-65s. We are the only claimants largely un­af­fected by the bon­fire of the ben­e­fits. Even the Tories are wary of our elec­toral power. The neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to the so-called “de­men­tia tax” led to rapid en­gage­ment of re­verse gear. Nev­er­the­less, it was a straw in the wind, more than hint­ing that the el­derly are no longer ex­empt from ne­olib­eral eco­nomic think­ing.

In the con­text of aus­ter­ity, it’s easy to jus­tify a heav­ier fis­cal regime for the el­derly. Many of us have done rather well in re­cent years. The triple lock pro­tects our pen­sions against the rav­ages of time and in­fla­tion. The value of our houses has gone through the roof. We en­joy a wide range of perks. Many of us are in good health and able to en­joy what we have. If you have any doubt, check the age profile of a flight to Ali­cante.

For­mer top civil ser­vant, Lord Bichard, floated the idea that those claim­ing the state pen­sion should carry out com­mu­nity ser­vice such as help­ing out in care homes. His Lord­ship, clearly not a stu­dent of irony, re­tired at the age of 54 with a huge pen­sion. There’s lit­tle chance he will be bathing res­i­dents at a care home near you.

He sug­gested the sprightly el­derly who didn’t do the de­cent thing should have their pen­sions re­duced. From there it’s not a huge leap to means test­ing the state pen­sion.

Like it or not, the EU’S so­cial agenda has gen­er­ally made life more se­cure for most of us, es­pe­cially the most vul­ner­a­ble. The not-so-hid­den

Brexit agenda is to un­der­mine that se­cu­rity. An in­se­cure pop­u­la­tion is a more com­pli­ant pop­u­la­tion, less likely to re­sist the rigours and un­fair­ness of dereg­u­la­tion.

We oldies have been slow to speak out about the in­jus­tices and in­dig­ni­ties ex­pe­ri­enced by the sick, the dis­abled, the home­less and the young. We can be com­pla­cent be­cause gen­er­ally, we don’t fall into any of the vul­ner­a­ble cat­e­gories.

In post-brexit Bri­tain that sit­u­a­tion is un­likely to en­dure. Our favoured po­si­tion is cer­tain, at the very least, to come un­der in­creased scru­tiny. We still have time to re­deem our­selves. We need to speak up against the most ex­treme and in­com­pe­tent West­min­ster ad­min­is­tra­tion in liv­ing mem­ory.

With fur­ther apolo­gies to Martin Niemoller, if we fail to speak up for oth­ers now, there will no one to speak up for us when our turn comes.

It was a straw in the wind, more than hint­ing that the el­derly are no longer ex­empt from ne­olib­eral eco­nomic think­ing

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