Sunday, 3 July 2016

A scary idea

I heard a quite horrifying 'expert view' expressed on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze this week.

If you have never listened to this programme, which has been going for years, it has a set of panelists chaired by Michael Buerk. The panelists question four experts - or self-proclaimed experts - on the issue to be discussed. This will be some topical event or trend. The panelists try to tease out the moral threads involved. In turn, each panelist will challenge the four experts to explain and justify what they think are the key points to be clear on, and what their own moral stance is. All in the spirit of throwing light upon the proper view to be taken. The questioning often reveals that the views of the 'expert' are inconsistent, or illogical, or not fully worked out. This helps the listener to think more straightly and sensibly about what he or she may think they know, or believe, or hold to be true.

This week the panelists were Giles Fraser, Mona Siddiqui, Melanie Phillips and Anne McElvoy. The subject was the moral issues connected with the Brexit Referendum - for example, whether it was moral to put the future of the country to a populist vote in this way, rather than leave it entirely to the government. But that wasn't the only issue identified.

One of the experts, who confessed to being in his mid-thirties, asserted that the voting had divided the country on age lines, and that it was morally wrong that the 'winning' side - mainly composed of older people (how did he know it was mainly older people?) - were going to impose their views on the rest. These flag-waving older people, who were not working, had old-fashioned, reactionary, out-of-touch views. They may well have voted for irresponsible, selfish or even senile reasons. They were, anyway, unlikely to live long enough to experience the full consequences of what they had voted for. They had sowed, but would not reap. They had ruined the future prospects of their children, simply in order to preserve what they valued about the present time, or to reverse or reinstate things that they didn't like. They had misused their vote, and let down the rising generations.

The immorality was therefore that older people who had no great stake in the future, who were not even wealth-generators in the present, had spoiled it for the young.

He proposed that in all fairness their voting rights should be heavily curtailed, by either giving an actuarial weighting to the 'young vote' - so that a 'younger' vote might be worth half as much again as an 'older' vote - or by disqualifying many voters altogether: for example, anybody (whatever their age) who didn't work and was an economic drain on the country. Certainly the people drawing pensions, but others besides. All such persons would be denied the right to vote on the country's future in a Referendum such as the one just held, or at least have the value of their vote restricted.

How scary! An expert proposing that the super-active young should be an elite! And that the old should be treated as second-class citizens, an entire swathe of people devalued and rendered politically negligible, their ongoing contribution to society, as (for example) a source of wisdom and experience, ignored; consigning them to endless sudoku and bingo because the young deserved the best, and theirs was the only voice that mattered.

I mean, where would one draw the line? Would actuarial tables of life-expectancy (and therefore what a vote was 'worth') have to be published and agreed for every voting occasion? Didn't life-expectancy differ not just by age but between location, social class, gender and lifestyle? Working out what a single vote might be worth - one's personal voting-power - would be complicated. Would this system apply only in Referenda? Or whenever a citizen might vote? And if an actuarial weighting were introduced, then why not other weightings as well? Such as those based on educational qualifications (to degree standard, say), good behaviour (no criminal convictions), and outstanding wealth-producing capability (captains of industry having a vote worth much, much more than lowly fast-food workers and fruit-pickers)

The man was heavily challenged to justify his views and to see where they led. I do think he had a point about the vote splitting on age lines, the young wanting to stay in the EU, and the old wanting out. But discriminating against the old in the way he proposed way was only likely to breed deep resentment against young people. It was a fact of life that older people had what they had, and did what they did, because they had lived long and successfully, and had learned not to be taken for a ride. They had long memories, and could compare then with now, and accordingly judge how the future might go with the eye of lengthy past experience, and indeed with mild cynicism.

At almost sixty-four I feel I have much left to do, and I have no plans to make an exit during the next thirty years. That's a long time, and I will very much feel the effects of my Leave vote. I will have to live with it, and can't escape.

I voted knowing that my own standard of living might be worsened. But I foresaw that a Leave vote might well bring about other changes, beneficial to all, connected with the social atmosphere prevailing in the country and what makes it such a special place to live in. I voted for that, and not just to spite the government.

I didn't feel bamboozled by conflicting arguments. I made up my own mind, and voted responsibly and intelligently.

I should therefore not be disenfranchised just because I am 'older' and failed to put the job prospects of younger people before anything else. I voted with the intention of putting the country's interests first - not just a section of the population such as the the under-forties, or the under-thirties, or children still at school.

And I still come back to it. 30% of the people who could have voted stayed in bed and didn't bother. I'm sure they were savvy enough to get their heads around the issues, but just too lazy or lacking in public spirit to act. I would hazard a guess that some of them have lately been tweeting about a second Referendum, so that they can have a belated second chance of voting Remain. Well, hard luck. You had your chance; you couldn't be arsed; and now it's too late.


  1. Democracy has always had its faults, the dumb Greeks forgot to include women for a start and that fault lingered on for a couple of millennia or so...

    I have always had a problem with the idea of just letting anyone in a defined group have a vote without any proof that they have the slightest inkling of the subject of the vote. A short list of questions printed in several orders on ballot papers would need to be included to stop cheating, the dumb can be very good at cheating.

    The Australians never have a problem with stay in bed voters and they get a bonus of the $100 fine from those who try it.

    Hope election distractions are not spoiling your adventures.

  2. Depressing isn't it... Remain voters accused the Leavers of being anti-immigrant, but now show their own prejudices towards older people.

    Well some of them do. I voted Remain and I'm really quite a nice person... or so I've been told.


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