Sunday, February 10, 2008

Respecting the old and the fall of Ming Campbell

Sir John Mortimer, no spring chicken himself, has an article in today's Observer. He writes that a new activity has been added to those forbidden by our government, like hunting, smoking, driving large cars and failing to eat green vegetables. It is growing old.

He goes on:

This is not altogether true of America where Republicans are (somewhat) enthusiastically embracing John McCain in his hope to become President and where a 66-year-old Julie Christie has received a nomination for an Oscar. The old dad or granddad in American movies is always a respected figure seated in the corner clutching a glass of whiskey and making sometimes comic but also determinedly wise judgments on life. The foolish behaviour of the young is usually his material, along with informed speculation on the Super Bowl.

In Britain, it is a different story. One of the few figures who acted like a statesman was Sir Ming Campbell. A life at the Scottish Bar had trained him in the art of asking apparently simple questions which could pierce and deflate pomposity.

But Sir Ming had committed a serious crime; nothing to do with alcohol or dangerous drugs or rent boys, he had knowingly achieved the age of 66.

I think it has to be said that being 66 was not exhaust Ming's difficulties. His real problem was that he was not a particularly good leader. As one one of those shortlisted for Lib Dem Blog of the Year, I was invited to interview Ming at last year's party conference. I never wrote the event up properly because I found it impossible to be too positive about the experience. And I am enough of a loyalist not to enjoy attacking my own leader in public.

Yet I think Sir John is on to something. The idea of respect for experience or the idea that years bring wisdom is now alien to our way of thinking. You can try putting it down to the speed of technological change nowadays - Grandad can't tell you how to use a computer - but I am not convinced that such change is any faster than it was in the 19th century.

Charles Dickens writes: good point.

And you can go further. Our society does not just despise age, it barely acknowledges the concept of adulthood.

Our concern for children's rights - and surely children have needs rather than rights? - arises not out of any great love or concern for children: it arises from out lack of confidence in ourselves as adults. It is a way of saying that we have no advice to offer you because our experience of life has taught us nothing of value. You are on your own.


asquith said...

I have a great deal of respect for Ming (and Kennedy). I think knifing people is a terrible idea that should be left to the others, basically.

But in reference to the main thrust of your article, a lot of old people are very disrespectful and dismissive towards "the younger generation". They don't acquaint themselves with us, they just assume we are wretches.

Anonymous said...

While sympathetic to the thrust of your principal argument, Jonathan, may I, at the ripe enough age of 68, take exception to you aside - "surely children have needs not rights". No, sir. Children, just like everyone else, surely have both. People's needs do not create rights, and indeed often far exceed them. Precisely what rights authority grants to different age groups may (and does, of course) vary. But by general consent children's rights include the right to freedom from abuse, foir example. Or don't you think so?