Guest columnist Roy Bainton on divisive politics and the power of the Grey Vote

editorial image

Politicians are desperately searching for election policies which might bring them that extra percentage point in the ballot box.

With food banks springing up throughout the country, public services rapidly deteriorating and 60 per cent of austerity cutbacks still to come, there’s always that standby favoured by monarchs and ministers throughout history: divide and rule.

Divide one section of the population against the other, and you could score a victory.

There is a distasteful undercurrent which seeks to set the young against the old.

A phoney picture of Britain’s OAPs has been painted by the media. We’re supposed to have massive savings, paid-up mortgages, with most of us spending half the year cruising the Caribbean.

One wonders how many OAPs reading this fit easily into this bracket. I’m approaching 72, still working part time to make ends meet.

I have a bus pass, which is very handy, free prescriptions, a £10 Xmas bonus, and we use that £100 Winter Fuel Allowance for—surprise, surprise —fuel.

The last cruise I went on was in 2010, from Hull to
 Zeebrugge, with no palm trees in sight. As a retired couple, our combined pensions bring us in about £200 per week. But as a campaign target, Westminster has us in its sights.

Those ‘ordinary’ MPs without a second or third job earn around £1,280 per week plus expenses.

There seems to be conflicting views about the so-called Grey Vote. One is that the retired should be cosseted at all costs; the other is that some of us are geriatric scroungers who are living too well and need taking down a peg or two.

Whoever we wrinklies are, whatever benefits we enjoy, we’ve paid for with over half a century of work, National Insurance contributions and taxes. We, and our parents before us, built the welfare state we all now benefit from.

Loathe as I am to give any credence to our Prime Minister, I can’t fault what he told a pensioners’ meeting recently: “Comfort, independence, companionship, health—these aren’t luxuries; they’re what people who have worked and saved all their lives deserve.

“If something happens to you when you’re old, or to your income, you can’t as easily change your circumstances as younger people can. You can’t as easily move house, or change job, or go full time. You need to know support is always there for you.” Cynical Grey Vote electioneering? Probably.

Ed Miliband will be wise to distance himself from the ‘yesterday’s men’ of the Blair years such as David Blunkett, who seems to forget who paid his substantial salary.

Blunkett suggests taxing our winter fuel allowance, Christmas bonus and television licence, and for pensioners who continue to work to pay National Insurance and pay for prescriptions. Sorry, David—we paid at the door.

If you’re young, vote. Whoever you vote for, remember: you will eventually be old, and it’s no fun. 

As Theodore Roosevelt said: “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”