We’ve got bogged down, that’s the thing. Bogged down and caught up, all at once. The Prime Minister is rude about people and people mind, even if they’re the sort of people who are habitually rude about him. Europe is a mess we either need or we don’t, and the notion of chaps marrying other chaps gets everybody terribly excited, whether they’re in favour or against. And so travelled are these paths of debate, and so much fun do we all have having them, that I suspect we’ve lost sight of the biggest political fight of all. Which isn’t really about any of these things at all, but about people. And how old they are.
Personally, I’m not normally a fan of columns based upon numbers. My preferred battlefields are the smaller ones of individual hearts and minds, and bludgeoning my way with bushels of statistics isn’t usually my style. Plus you need to look them up, and Lord it’s exhausting. Sometimes, though, the numbers are so glaring you can’t ignore them. Like now.
Speaking almost factually, it’s pretty unlikely that the Tory grass roots are ‘swivel-eyed loons’. By most estimates, their average age is somewhere between 65 and 70, and swivelling your eyes behind bifocals rather defeats the purpose. Meanwhile, according to a poll by Survation this week, 33 per cent of those over 65 would vote Ukip tomorrow, and 13.4 per cent of everybody else would. Similarly, according to an ICM poll earlier this year, 37 per cent of over-65s fancy the idea of gay marriage, compared with 72 per cent of those below. This is glaring stuff.
So. Let us forget where the ‘real world’ is, and who lives in it, or who has been in charge of a business and whether or not that’s important. Let’s ignore the question of whether equal marriage extends marriage or changes it, and cease to speculate on precisely who Sir Gerald Howarth’s ‘aggressive homosexuals’ are, and what he feels they might do to him were their aggression to go unchecked. Rather, let us recognise Mr Cameron’s difficulty for what it is. Which is, essentially, that he faces a concerted fightback from an older generation that feels the world slipping from its fingers, and has had enough.
Or if you prefer, we can put the bellicosity on the other side, and identify an aggressive move (albeit perhaps less aggressive than the one that Sir Gerald might fear in a communal shower) by a younger generation — or, to be more accurate, a couple of younger generations — who realise the world is finally theirs and wish to brand it with their stamp. This is why equal marriage, in particular, has become such a big deal, despite affecting relatively few people. It’s not just a symbol. It’s an early skirmish, between those who feel it is time to stop just living in their country and start owning it, and those who have owned it until now and don’t want to let it go.
There will be others, and they’ll matter more than this. Much as it pains me to say it, when Ed Miliband guffs on about his ‘new generation’ he’s only talking perhaps 80 per cent actual dross. Yes, Britain has an ageing population and yes, today’s young will one day be old, but they’ll be ageing into a different world, and they’ll want different things from it. Europe, immigration, even climate change — I can see why somebody’s views on these might change with added years. But how to protect a gold-plated pension when the people paying for it expect to have no pension at all? How to fight off a mansion tax against a generation that has grown up barely even being credibly able to dream of owning property at all?
Some have argued that the older owe the younger a debt, due to the way they’ve led subsidised lives, and now own almost everything. This isn’t a radical leftist position; David Willetts makes the case in his book The Pinch. Morality, though, is rather beside the point. Today’s younger are going to want to remake their world to their advantage, just as every other generation has done. The current cultural battles are just the beginning. You wait till this stuff gets real.
We’re getting a fake lawn. Is that OK, do you think? I’m in a terrible quandary about it. On the one hand — well, you know — a bloody fake lawn. It’s a bit Blade Runner, isn’t it? It’s a bit, ‘I am a metropolitan android, out of touch with everything holy and good in the world. Yes, I as a child frolicked in an Edinburgh back garden, on a cool, cool (frankly cold) lawn hiding beetles, earthworms and myriad tiny lives. But my daughters, because I moved to London, will make do with a patch of outdoor carpet.’
On the other, though, we only have a patio, and a real lawn would never work. And it looks so real! The blades have individual folds in them. In amongst the fake green grass, there are strands of fake dead grass. Seriously. Fake dead grass. This is what people like me spend their money on. Maybe it’ll be OK. Until I forget and stub a fag out on it. Then it won’t.