The rotten legacy of my spoilt generation YP 19 Nov 2010
published in the Yorkshire Post 19 Nov 2010
I’m 62 years old, and part of a privileged generation. Living standards virtually doubled as we grew up. Once-exotic treats became routine to us, such as food out of season, restaurant meals and foreign holidays. Entire markets in music, fashion and recreation were created for us as teenagers.
More of us went into higher education than ever before. We left that education free of major debt and confident of falling into a well-paid job when we wanted one. We knew that we were remarkably talented and had nothing to learn from past generations, those sad, earnest people with their neatly-pressed clothes and well-controlled hair. We were going to re-shape the world.
Well, we failed. Outside the field of rock music, our cultural achievements were meagre, cultish and cliquey. Many of our golden generation poured into the media and formed the gliberati, well-paid mouths with instant slick opinions on any topic (yes, I know, I tried to be one myself). Some of us never even aimed that high, but lived well from being strident and stupid.
In politics our failure was even more total. On a host of serious issues we had nothing to offer in power except government by gimmick and policy from panic.
Entire industries vanished from our economy. In their place, we became dependent on dimwitted spivs trading financial assets they could not value or even understand. We ceased to pay our way in the world: instead, like Blanche Dubois, we relied on the kindness of strangers to take care of our debts and maintain our living standards. The gap between richest and poorest grew wider and wider, not only in income and wealth but in opportunity and expectation. Our tax and social security system became a shambolic lottery. Britain’s pension system, public and private, became an expensive wreck. Millions of well-qualified people now have no hope of fulfilling work.
We tinkered endlessly, expensively and uselessly with public services and local government. Botched reforms cost billions and produced no benefits except to their promoters. Box ticking in public services replaced intelligence and imagination. Arbitrary targets distorted priorities, and encouraged concealment and lying when they were not met.
In education, we abandoned the comprehensive ideal of equality of opportunity, having scarcely tried to make it work. English education became more fragmented and divisive than ever before, with pockets of privilege for the pushy and second-class standards for everyone else. We spent billions more on the health service (much dissipated in constant reorganizations) without making people happier or healthier. We failed to establish any effective control on the consumption of any drug, legal or illegal. On crime and terrorism we invented a host of new offences and punishments, sacrificed traditional civil liberties and personal privacy, and stuffed prisons full of vulnerable people who should not be there. No one feels any safer. Our cities are full of ugly buildings and drab, identikit centres and angry, frightened neighbourhoods where people do not know their neighbours. Our streets are full of dispossessed or dysfunctional people, officially receiving care in the community, in reality with no care and no community.
Although our economy has become dependent on immigrant labour, my generation in power proved incapable of managing immigration, or protecting immigrant communities from discrimination and hatred.
In foreign policy, my generation had nothing to offer but delusions of Great Power status. To maintain them, it sacrificed thousands of soldiers in futile wars. Our national defence budget has been squandered for years on outdoor relief for arms manufacturers. After each procurement disaster, the British people were assured that “lessons have been learnt”, and then another disaster came along and the lessons had to be repeated.
On top of these failures in government, our generation managed to destroy faith in British government itself. Our country was once envied for its probity. This year it fell to its lowest-ever place in Transparency International’s world rankings of corruption in government: 20th, behind Barbados and Ireland. Lobbyists and special interest groups feed off the rotting carcase of British government: ministers and civil servants are bullied or suborned by the interests they are supposed to control. Our ruling elite live in a bubble of privilege, perks and power, free to ignore the standards they preach constantly at other people. An MP uses election propaganda which is so malign and obnoxious that he is disqualified by a court: his fellow MPs think him hard done by and raise funds for him. (I offer the fees for this article to any decent independent candidate who runs against Phil Woolas in any future election.)
Our generation was not responsible for all of these disasters. Many were created by younger people, especially during the Blair government with its half-witted cult of youth and modernity. But they happened on our watch and we failed to prevent them.
As one of the childen of the Sixties, I therefore apologize to the children of the Eighties. We patronized you and bored you rigid talking about my generation. Now we have left you an unholy mess to clear up, and we whine if you threaten any of our expensive entitlements. Serve us all right if you chuck us into the workhouse.