Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Those currently dying out may have been the best of us. They will certainly be the last of the British as we knew them. My parents and their contemporaries survived the last war as children, grew up with rationing, expected to be given nothing and were grateful for the opportunities to get ahead. Grammar schools and further education increased their aspirations and the revolutionary welfare state project promised cradle-to-grave protection. They reared their children and grandchildren through the turmoil of the sixties and seventies, to emerge into the great wealth boom and optimism of the eighties.
They were the first generation of working people to own their own homes en masse and saw their children do likewise. Their grandchildren, however, are less likely to become secure homeowners. Despite the uncertainty of the Cold War they lived through the longest period of peace for many years and paid into a system which has given them a retirement their own parents could only have dreamed of. The closer ties to our European neighbours seemed on the whole positive, except for the meddling, but that appeared to be purely political wrangling and nothing to do with everyday life. They expected to go gentle into that good night and those who already did have been spared.
But those who cling on must be mortified at the scenes that permeate the news channels, day in, day out. They see a wall to wall apocalypse in the form of hundreds of thousands of people ‘not like us’ against whom the supposed unity of the European Union appears helpless and clueless. The televised African famines of the sixties and seventies – Biafra, Ethiopia, Bangladesh... Ethiopia again – were just that; scenes on the television, far from home and not our fault. But this – also not our fault, despite how much the cringing hand-wringing set wish it to be – is spilling over into a west that is powerless to resist.
Now that my lumbago has its own lumbago I’m entering an uncertain twilight of my own which appears to parallel the demise of Europe. It’s going to be a long, drawn out affair for both of us – me and the west – as we limp along. For a while, possibly quite a long while, we’ll get by. There will be enough in the pot to keep us going, but one day the reality will be revealed and the money will run out. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t expect pensions to ever be as comparatively generous and as reliable as at the present. And I can’t be the only one expecting to work way beyond retirement age to make ends meet. I’m a realist.
I just wish Britain would realise the same and stop pretending that it’s all going to be okay, that migrant workers on minimum wage will somehow keep the coffers brimming over against all the evidence and common sense. I keep paying in with less and less confidence I’ll ever get anything back, just as the UK does with the EU. But if I had kids I would be making plans to transfer to them whatever can be kept out of the hands of an ever more profligate state, so that they could make their own way in the world.
Whatever happened in the past, the EU’s budget is out of control and beyond reform. The greatest bequest Britain can give to its children is independence. Give generously, give life, give hope and vote for Brexit.