Auberon Waugh rages against Edwina Currie, the youth vote and English schoolboys
Edwina Currie's description of Mrs Thatcher will surely survive in the political language of our time, just as Mr ‘Paddy’ Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat who was 52 last Thursday, is unlikely to lose the admiring nickname of Paddy Pantsdown. What Mrs Currie said of her former leader was: ‘She’s in danger of becoming the Tony Benn of the Tory party — old and mad and silly and wrong.’ One does not wish to impose a new burden of political correctness on everyday speech by objecting to the choice of ‘old’ in this context as if it were a term of abuse, as ‘mad’ and ‘silly’ and ‘wrong’ are undoubtedly intended to be. The mentally ill, through their various associations, might reasonably object to being linked with Benn and Thatcher in this way, and might also object to their affliction being used as a term of abuse, but that is not my point in drawing attention to Mrs Currie’s use of ‘old’.
Currie herself, at 45, can scarcely think of herself as a spring chicken, but perhaps she has not yet come to terms with the important threshold she is approaching in five years’ time. My point is that as soon as she describes someone whom she believes to be mad and silly and wrong as being old and mad and silly and wrong, everything changes. Most of us may have spent many years reviling either Benn or Thatcher or, in my own case, both, but as soon as some 45-year-old pipsqueak starts abusing them for being old, an enormous tide of sympathy flows out from the over- 50s (who, as I never tire of pointing out, will soon form a clear majority of the electorate) and engulfs them both.
If Currie wants Benn to be swept into the leadership of the Labour Party and Thatcher restored as Tory leader, she is doing the right thing. But I doubt she has any such desire. By drawing attention to the fact that Thatcher is 66 she hopes to remind us that she herself is still comparatively green at 45, in the pathetic, outdated belief that she will win greater respect for herself and increase her prospects of promotion in that way.
The tragedy is that many otherwise intelligent people in our society have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into accepting that it is disgraceful to be old, that the young have some greater moral claim to the good things of life. It is this pathetic attitude that the magazine and the Oldies’ Association, which will be formed from subscribers, are determined to conquer. The same spirit of defeatism inspires those who argue that The Oldie is a rotten name. It is exactly right, designed to frighten away the pompous and the self-important while appealing to the good- humoured and sporting instincts of an age group which has suffered enough from the patronising embrace of the welfare industry.
We shall see in a month or two how the Oldies’ Association looks like shaping. Should it have a badge, like the Dennis the Menace fan club, or a tie for the men, like the equally absurd Garrick Club, and a scarf for the women? If a badge, I feel it should be a thing of beauty, in enamel and brass, showing Methuselah in the act of begetting Lamech, perhaps, rather than the sort of thing you get out of a cracker, showing the Ministry of Transport Oldie logo. Should we really agitate for the voting age to be raised to 30, or will a return to 21 do the trick? Personally, I doubt whether those aged 21-30 have any useful advice to give their sovereign about her choice of government, but it could be argued that young people deserve a vote as soon as they are gainfully employed and off the scrounge.
All these things can be settled in due course. For the present, I am busy watching what the opposition is up to. In my copy of Nursery World there is an explanation of the new Children Act, including a ‘bold, colourful poster’ produced by the National Children’s Bureau. It shows a collection of cartoon heads representing children of different sex, age and ethnic groups under the banner heading ‘I deserve respect’.
The head of a Chinese boy says ‘for my language’; a Sikh says ‘for the colour of my skin’. A Rasta has two reasons for being respected: ‘for my roots’ and ‘for what I think and feel’. The English girl has only one reason, ‘for me as a person’ — oh really? — but the English boy has two, ‘for what I’m good at’ (I wonder what that is) and ‘for my sexual feelings’.
Oh shut up and piss off, you dirty little beast. The idea that we should respect British schoolboys for their private lusts is ludicrous enough to expose the whole enterprise for the deeply patronising, deeply insincere load of rubbish it is. One day these poor confused brats are going to have to learn that the only way to enjoy respect is to earn it by good behaviour, by politeness and by hard work.
The last thing in the world we want is an Oldies’ Act, instructing the young to treat us with respect in the same moronic tones. The only way we Oldies will prevail will be if we assert ourselves. For that, it is not enough for us to know we are right. We must also know we have the strength. If any legislation is needed, it should be to allow all those over the age of 50 to carry 24-inch night sticks against the envy, malice or general indiscipline of the young.
This article first appeared in 1992