What price idealism, as middle age spreads?

TWENTY-FIVE years ago yesterday, thousands of demonstrators marched on London's Grosvenor Square to protest against the war in Vietnam. It was the iconic event of the British Sixties for the generation that was going to change the world. Power to the People] It was instant ideology you could pin on your sleeve, but better than no myth at all; everyone who was anyone came, including a student from Arkansas called Bill Clinton. As the North Vietnamese flags were unfurled against a blue March sky, kids in beads and beards eyeballed cops on horses and, without a hint of irony, everybody shouted 'Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh]'.

People got hurt at Grosvenor Square. At the intersection of absolute conviction and moral fervour, we were careless. But angry, expectant, as we planned to end the war and banish forever the time-servers and morally middle-aged. What I'm wondering as a result of wildly disparate things that have been in the news and on my mind - John Birt, Richard Nixon, middle age - is how in the hell did we get from there to here?

How did we get to be a generation of whining fortysomething time-servers, denizens of an era when no one says he's sorry, no one resigns, and any crook can be recycled if only he hangs around long enough? Bill Clinton has even invited Richard Nixon to the White House to advise on supporting democracy in Russia, a subject on which he has become sage-in-residence.

That Tricky Dicky is smart about Russia is undoubtedly true, but so what? I mean what if Saddam Hussein's excellent plan for street lighting surfaced? And what is Hillary Clinton going to say when he comes to dinner? 'Hiya, Dick. It's ages since I worked on the committee to impeach you . . .'

I remember exactly how the constraints of democracy at home always seemed to irritate Nixon, I remember that sallow face with its five o'clock shadow showing contempt for anyone who got in the way. For Nixon, all students were bums. Nixon was the demon of my generation.

In the autumn of 1968, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, after French students went to the barricades and the Prague spring was crushed by Soviet tanks, Nixon was elected President on a law- and-order platform. Six years later, he resigned only when faced with impeachment. For some, given the secret war he ran in South-east Asia, he was an actual war criminal; for most, given Watergate, he was, at least, a crook. He never really thought he did anything wrong. More importantly, he never apologised.

John Birt, the BBC's embattled director-general, was a fully paid-up member of the generation of 1968, none more so given his moral rectitude and political correctness. Still, as he set out last night for the 'dinner from hell' to mark the departure of his predecessor, Sir Michael Checkland, he went more in the spirit of Nixon than Grosvenor Square.

I do not want to imply that John Birt in any way resembles Richard Nixon. I know and like the man. But his victorious finger-pointing PR men have stonewalled with rhetoric that is downright Nixonian: Mr Birt was the 'victim of a disaffected mob'. The press was 'guilty of journalistic invention'.

But then this is the age of sanctimonious denial: Nixon is canonised. Such ministers as David Mellor only resign if caught out; John Major never regrets anything. And Norman Lamont, without a hint of self-reproach, announces a Budget in which every Briton will be worse off because of the government screw-up of Black Wednesday.

You know what? Most of us aren't much better than Mr Birt or the rest. All over town, Mr Birt's opponents have charged up the moral high ground. A lot of people have suddenly whipped up a view not just about Mr Birt's taxes, but about the entire BBC. I know many people who work in television: all of them have known about its problems for years. Did we get up and shout about it? Did we hell] We were looking for the fattest deal, the shiniest golden handcuffs or, at best, sitting in complicit comfort on the fence.

Back in the days of Grosvenor Square - I don't care if this is naive and sentimental - we figured that when we grew up, we'd seize power and make the changes. Don't get angry, get even, in the brutal but useful words of Bobby Kennedy. We didn't, though. We've become what we could never imagine being: corruptible and unapologetic about it, and, saddest of all, middle-aged.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

    £17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'