Janet Street-Porter: Martin Amis is right about the elderly

Click to follow
The Independent Online

With the banking system narrowly averting meltdown and the queues at Job Centres lengthening, what further unpleasantness awaits us in 2009? According to Martin Amis, whose novel Money painted a chilling portrait of the excesses of 1980s Britain, we can look forward to mounting civil unrest as the younger generation realise the elderly are starting to make costly demands on public services, clogging up hospitals, filling up restaurants and monopolising social services.

On the radio the other day Amis sounded chirpy, pronouncing himself a baby boomer, and adding that "we will be richly hated". He painted a grisly picture of the next decade: talking of a "silver Tsunami", the "third rail" (i.e. the electrified one) that no one dare touch.

Amis reckons the class system has disappeared and been replaced by a rigid hierarchy in which the young will resent being made to pay for the over-60s. Amis predicts a civil war between the generations. Is he joking?

In this country the elderly have not mobilised themselves into a powerful lobby group as they have in America, where politicians dare not ignore the AARP – the American Association of Retired People. Here we have charities such as Age Concern, and Dame Joan Bakewell appointed a government spokeswoman for the elderly, but pensioners do not yet have the political clout they deserve. They tend to make headlines in terms of need and hardship, which is surprising when numerically my generation of baby-boomers are the single most important group of voters, homeowners and consumers.

We've been well educated, have a social conscience, understand and participate freely in the technological age, are willing to learn new skills, and we travel widely. This generation is far more open to new ideas than the moribund couch potatoes under 30, who can't be bothered to finish their degrees and are saddled with massive debt and no prospect of owning a home or saving for a deposit.

Given that more than 80 per cent of the over-65s voted in the last election, against less than 40 per cent of the under 25s, isn't it about time all political parties took the silver surfers more seriously? I expect savvy pensioners will soon decide to form their own political party, to protect their pensions and fight to protect their rights. If Vince Cable could be persuaded to be their leader they'd walk the next election.

Amis makes an over-statement for comic effect, but there's a nugget of truth in his hyperbole. No one dare criticise the elderly – it would be seen as political suicide. So he's right when he talks of the sheer size of the problem as "like a huge avalanche of hideous immigrants". It's the elephant in the room, and the other reason why the Treasury will soon have even less cash to go round. The Government has been wary of talking about the downside of an ageing population. It's less controversial to keep talk of a problem generation focused on the anti-social behaviour of the under 20s.

Tory MP David Willets is writing a book about the generational divide – the fact that generations rarely mix together these days outside their family. According to Willets, each generation looks at the other with increasing distrust. One way of averting the meltdown that Amis predicts would be by ending custodial sentences for the under 25s (except for violent crimes), replacing it with community service: helping social services care for the old in their own homes and in residential units.

The scheme could be run by wealthy baby-boomers with a social conscience, a huge untapped resource. I don't think we're facing an Amis-style meltdown, but we do need smart ways for young and old to connect better.

'Gavin and Stacy': addictive and essential TV

The soaps offer nothing but doom and gloom this Christmas, and the Archers a grim saga of tears and tantrums at the village panto rehearsals, so the highlight of my Christmas viewing and listening will be the hour-long Gavin and Stacey special tonight on BBC1. Even the repeats of the second series have scored nearly four million viewers, as the mainstream audience discovers this likeable (and addictive) comedy.

The friendship between Gavin (Mathew Horne) and the chubby Smithy (James Corden) is one of the best-written double acts on television at the moment. Here's family life that's warm and rooted in real life. No wonder it's picked up so many awards for co-writers Corden and Ruth Jones, who plays Nessa, now the mother of his child after an unfortunate one-night stand.

Corden and Jones announced on Sunday that they would be writing a third series, when they appeared on a live Radio Wales show from Barry island, surrounded by a thousand fans waving placards and banners. The big question is what Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) will reveal next about his sexuality. I wonder how my Welsh relatives are reacting?

Jacqui needs someone to sing her praises

Critics have asked why Jacqui Smith can't fight her own battles. As Home Secretary she seems well equipped to face down criticism in the Commons, and gave reporters pretty short shrift the other day when asked about the future of anti-terrorism boss Bob Quick. Closer to home, however, she seems to need the services of an ardent fan to sing her praises.

She has a majority of under 3,000 in her constituency of Redditch, something which clearly bothers her loyal husband Richard, who has taken to writing highly supportive letters tóo the local newspaper. I can sympathise. I doubt Ms Smith knew her husband (who's on her payroll as an "adviser") had ever sent the letters.

Years ago when I was a columnist on another newspaper they published several critical letters from readers. Imagine my shock when I opened the paper the following week to discover that the "letter of the day" – which won a £20 book token – which sang my praises as "such a witty and well-informed writer who really made me laugh", came from Mrs C Bull of Perivale. My mother.