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Why do some remainers think ageism is acceptable?

15 May 2019

11:05 AM

15 May 2019

11:05 AM

Doubtless there is little cross-over between the readership of The Spectator and that of the New European. Not just because sales figures show that almost nobody reads the strange paper set up after the 2016 Brexit vote, but because while The Spectator includes a wide array of different views, the business model of the New European appears to be based simply on whipping up as much prejudice, grievance and malice as it is possible among those who voted ‘Remain’ in 2016. When people talk about the ‘politics of hate’ such a publication must surely be what they have in mind?

But occasionally the publication and its contributors do something so disgusting that it isn’t possible to completely ignore them. I don’t mean the usual boiler-plate from its stable of ‘talent’ or its claims that UK subjects only have a tiny remaining window in which to travel to, and enjoy, the delights of Brussels. I mean things like this tweet from the publication’s editor – Matt Kelly – earlier this week:

Clear-eyed readers may notice that the Remain party Change UK has a considerably less ‘diverse’ candidate list than the Brexit Party, and that audiences at Allen-Soubry events looks decidedly less ‘diverse’ than those of Brexit Party events. But enough, anyway. Some of us do not want our democratic future to be based on counting the skin pigmentation of faces in political crowds in order to tot them up into some great racial bar chart.

But what struck me about Matt Kelly’s tweet is the part that will have glided past some people. I don’t say it is the only acceptable prejudice in our country, but it is the most acceptable prejudice by some way. That is the prejudice of ageism.

I must say (and believe I can still make this point from a position divorced from self-interest) that the vengeful tone in which anyone with grey hair is now able to be talked about in this country is shocking. Not only does it betray a callousness and a prejudice which should in any season be regarded as shocking. It also betrays an attitude which is either nihilistic (‘I’m never going to get old, me’) or startling in its lack of imagination.

One fairly good test of the health of any individual or society is its attitude towards the old. Do they have a huge amount still to contribute, or should we pretend that once people are no longer able to do the manual labour which everybody in our society obviously always still does, we regard them as effectively worthless and able to be derided with glee?

It would seem to me that one mark of a civilised as well as sensible society is that it has a reasonable and balanced attitude towards age and experience, balancing this with its interest in youth and novelty. But clearly not everybody agrees.

During the Scruton affair there was another striking example of the malicious way in which the old can now be dismissed. This came from the self-described ‘literally a communist’ blogger Ash Sarkar. The ‘media company’ of which she is a part was the only entity still willing to defend the disgraced journalist George Eaton. But in one of their splenetic – and futile – attempts to defend Eaton here is what Sarkar wrote:

Let us ignore for a moment the various claims about linen suits, ‘the establishment’ or indeed the credit or otherwise that George Eaton has brought to his erstwhile employers. And just imagine for a moment what it takes for somebody to throw that cholesterol comment in. What sort of a person do you have to be to taunt people with their cholesterol readings? And when did this become the lingua franca of political argument among the far-left and the remaining ‘Remain’ lobby?

If there is a consolation, I suppose it is only this. People who labour under various other forms of prejudice may never come face-to-face with the absurdities of their views. Though ageism may be the most acceptable current prejudice it is also – safe to say – the only one absolutely certain one day to confront all those who hold it.

So much as one may abhor the malice that has crept into our discourse in the name of remaining in the European Union, perhaps we should be content to sit back and just offer one piece of advice to Matt, Ash, and all the rest of them. Never get old, guys. Never get old.

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