The wailing and gnashing of teeth of young against old for voting ‘leave’ in the recent EU referendum is remarkable and reprehensible. On TV and in the newspapers the young display their anger and misery at having being betrayed by older, selfish, working-class, uneducated racists.
A historian reading the young’s hysterical postings on social media might think the old had launched a pogrom against the young, and were plotting to use their mobility scooters to herd the latter into camps to be re-educated in the ways of British Bigotry. Britain’s oldies also stand accused of betraying the young’s future, of leaving them bereft of hope in a benighted country, of fascistic intolerance, and, as the UK falls into economic ruin, of destroying their job prospects; in addition – horror of horrors – of cruelly threatening their gap year in Europe. Insults and vicious jokes abound, urging the old to hurry up and die so that their vile prejudices can be buried with them.
Imagine that gays, blacks or Muslims had largely voted to Leave, and that their votes had been instrumental in winning the referendum for Brexit. Would a torrent of abuse, accusation and dark humour have been directed against them? Of course not. It would be abhorrent. It seems however that the old are fair game, and ageism an acceptable prejudice.
There is nothing more illiberal than a liberal; I am of course, addressing a certain faction of the young: the over-earnest, cosmopolitan, social media obsessed, educated but ignorant and unquestioning cheerleaders of all things EU-related. I suspect that in deprived, working class estates across Britain there were as many of the young who voted leave as remain. However their voices do not resonate so loudly among the chattering classes.
This sheep like criticism of the Old Leavers is unjust. In many parts of the country grandparents were not voting themselves but for the sake of the generations succeeding them. They could foresee their children and grandchildren being priced out of work, of being unable to afford a house and being pushed ever further down the waiting lists for a council house, or, unable to find a school place of their choice seeing their grandchildren thrown into a school where English is just another second language accompanied by the cultural alienation of indigenous children deliberately unremarked by their teachers.
A particularly pernicious and repeated accusation made by Young Remainers against Old Leavers is that that oldies are ignorant and uneducated. But as an oldie friend of mine perceptively pointed out (he is sixty with a Master’s degree from a first class university) an ‘A’ level from the seventies is the equivalent of a degree these days, because the 50% of school leavers now expected to enrol in higher education have brought their appallingly low standards of literacy and numeracy with them.
One only has to witness the astounding success of the University of the Third Age to understand the thirst for learning among oldies. As I know from my talks to the U3A, even small market towns can muster an audience of 100 or more on a wet afternoon to listen to expert guest speakers. It is oldies all those BBC and Sky historical, cultural and political documentaries are aimed at.
Tellingly, oldies are far more likely to be better informed than the young on current affairs (such as, er, the European Union). Oldies are the ones who, as part of a lifelong habit, still buy papers and watch the evening news rather than relying on the instant, undeveloped and unformulated opinions echoing around the internet with its self-censoring partisan promotion of knee-jerk, virtue-signalling opinions.
But; ‘Being ageist is soooo uncool, innit, bruv?’