Sir Vince Cable, the new leader of the Lib Dem Party, has apparently said that older people, comfortably well-off and likely to remain so, have behaved like jihadi martyrs by voting for Brexit. I have lifted the following from the BBC News webpage. It's based on an article he has written for the Mail on Sunday (uh-oh, the Mail):
Older people who voted for Brexit have "comprehensively shafted the young", Sir Vince Cable has said.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the Lib Dem leader accused the over-65s of being 'self-declared martyrs' who claim leaving the EU is worth the cost.
'The martyrdom of the old comes cheap,' he said, as fewer have jobs to lose and living standards are protected by the triple lock on pensions.
'For the Brexit martyrs, paradise beckons,' he added.
Quoting statistics that 64% of over-65s voted for Brexit - compared with 71% of under-25s who voted Remain - Sir Vince said he was 'struck by the heavily Remain sentiment in colleges and schools, and the heavily Brexit mood of church-hall meetings packed with retired people' during the referendum campaign. He claimed that austerity measures had largely affected the working population, with pensioners suffering "relatively little" after the financial crisis. Young people, he said, have the added problems of 'prohibitive housing costs, growing job insecurity and limited career progression'.
'The old have comprehensively shafted the young,' added Sir Vince. 'And the old have had the last word about Brexit, imposing a world view coloured by nostalgia for an imperial past on a younger generation much more comfortable with modern Europe.'
The newly-elected party leader warned that describing such 'masochism' as martyrdom was 'dangerous', adding: 'We haven't yet heard about 'Brexit jihadis' but there is an undercurrent of violence in the language which is troubling.'
If the quotes are accurate, and can indeed be taken together as a true report of what he wrote, then I take exception to them. He means people like me. He means an entire generation of people who have already given up work and now manage on a pension of some sort. He is saying that they are all decently well-off and can stand a bit of financial pain in order to make their point. They are inflation-proofed, triple-locked, flag-waving moaners who want to hear gung-ho talk of the Empire again, and selfishly don't care that their pro-Brexit vote will beggar the younger generations.
I am very annoyed about this. Sir Vince is singling out a section of society and attacking them for not wanting to be part of a vast continental super-state called Europe, whose mechanisms are demonstrably inefficient, money-wasting, and unaccountable. He is rubbishing the mature viewpoint and judgement of an older and experienced generation. 'Mature' may not be the same as 'wise' or 'well-informed', but older people are not fools. Experience tends to teach sharp lessons, and anyone aged 65 or older will have had a bellyful of sharp lessons. Even me. I take this personally. How dare he.
In any case, not very many pensioners enjoy a 'comfortable' income. By no means all will have even the full State Pension. Quite a few won't have built up enough National Insurance Contributions and will therefore need a state supplement - Pension Credit - to bring their weekly income up to a modest £160 or so. I wouldn't like to exist on only that.
Some will of course have savings, or capital realised from downsizing their home, put together to get an income from the interest. But we all know how low interest rates have been for years now. Anyone half-dependent on an income from interest has been having a thin time.
Some people will have a private pension or two - annuities - to boost their income. But they won't necessarily be index-linked.
A smaller number will have proper occupational pensions. And if they were in a good job, for long enough, a fortunate minority will have an index-linked final-salary pension. I'm one of those fortunates. My Dad was one too.
A tiny number of people (not me, though!) have a retirement package that includes a pension of such generosity that one can only stand back and gasp. These people exist in a different world. They are emphatically not Mail readers, and I doubt if they are Lib Dem voters either.
I'd definitely say that I have a 'comfortable' income. I've never needed to work since retiring. I do have to plan my big spends with care, but I can afford nice food and clothes, a pleasant social life, and lengthy holidays. If taxes had to go up, I could easily cope. I am not burdened with a mountain of debt. I am insulated from hikes in interest rates, or jumps in inflation. I'm just the kind of person Sir Vince might have in mind.
But I didn't vote to leave the EU in order to 'shaft the young' or to be a 'martyr'.
Sir Vince is implying that oldsters have wanted to strike back and teach the young ones a lesson. Well, not me.
What about martyrdom? In the cause of Britishness? There's something in that. I didn't like the notion of distinctive nationhood seeping away until there was nothing left of it, and we were just an offshore region of Europe, very similar in every way to the other regions. Of course one might make a stand against that happening. But not a jihadi-type stand. You know: with blind faith, fanaticism, violence, and that 'look-at-me' death wish.
What about that other jibe, having nostalgia for an imperial past?
Sir Vince is off the mark there. The British Empire was faltering well before the Second World War. By 1945 it was on its last legs. The Queen herself may feel nostalgic about the Empire she used to be the head of, but its dismantlement had already begun before she came to the throne, when India became independent in 1947. When I was a teenager in the 1960s, it seemed that every year saw some territory around the world also gain its independence. I grew up watching Britain grant nationhood to a host of new countries (often with strange new names, like Malawi and Zimbabwe). I say 'grant', but it was an inevitable thing, long overdue, and almost there for the asking. I dare say that frantic and reprehensible asset-stripping went on before the day of independence came around, and that many a new country saw little change because the British mining and agricultural interests were unassailable for years to come. If you want to talk about shafting, British treatment of foreign locals before, during and long after the granting of independence would make a fine story.
I am no fan of empire-building, and deplore it in the contemporary world. I do not wish for a return to a world in which rich and powerful nations suck the life out of poorer subject-nations. It did seem to me that the EU's attitude to its member countries had developed a colonial whiff, and that the current EU hard-line approach to Brexit negotiations is reminiscent of a master making life difficult for a slave wanting to buy her freedom.
I don't claim that the rest of my generation feels the same way as I do. But I doubt if anyone now retired cares two hoots for the old British Empire, or can even remember what life was like when the British Empire was a living thing. That would have to be a pre-war generation, my Dad's generation, people old enough to be at least sixteen by 1939. I dare say they viewed the passing of Empire with sadness and nostalgia. But they are nearly all dead now. Sir Vince, take note.