Rarely, one imagines, has the future seemed less knowable and more frightening. But some aspects of it are already certain.
One is that we, in this country, will have to live with an ageing population. The post-war birth boom, increasing longevity plus a recent decline in reproductive rates have not made this merely possible, but guaranteed. Its causes have already taken place. The earthquake has been going on in slow motion beyond the horizon for decades, and just as slowly, its tsunami will reach us, too.
The younger, smaller, working population will not be able to support the elderly, retired, economically unproductive one. Barring miraculous technological advances, there is only one solution to this problem, and that is large scale immigration.
For a while, countries like ours, that are justly governed, and considered pleasant to live in, will be able convince young people from elsewhere to build their lives here, and settle the bills run up by the boomers, who, yes, have paid plenty into the system, but ultimately not enough.
There are causes for optimism. Young people, for the most part, are fine with that vision of the future. They are, for the most part, fine with immigrants.
But it is a future to which those who have already built a long and happy life by scapegoating and vilifying immigrants have precisely nothing to offer.
We learned three things over the weekend. One is that the former Telegraph editor, anti-BBC campaigner and license fee avoider Charles Moore is being lined up to become chairman of the BBC. Another is that Paul Dacre, former editor of the Daily Mail, may have also been lined up by Boris Johnson to head the broadcast regulator, Ofcom. The third is that Andrew Neil is leaving the BBC to set up a new television station, GB News, which we are told will be for those who feel “underserved and unheard by their media.” We reserve judgement, of course, but no one involved is currently doing anything to disabuse the growing notion that it will be “a British Fox News,” insofar as the impartiality regulations (which may soon be Dacre’s responsibility to enforce) will allow.
Seeking to appoint two newspaper journalists who know nothing about broadcasting beyond their loathing for the BBC to two of the most powerful broadcasting positions in the country is, of course, just the latest bit of miserable, gruelling, government-by-confrontation methodology to which we have all become accustomed. The government also has a large majority and has legitimately won the right to do as it pleases.
It, or rather its enforcer, Dominic Cummings, imagines itself to be some kind of divine wind, some bringer of creative destruction. But there is no evidence to suggest any creativity, not yet anyway. So far, destruction, be it by accident or design, is all it can do.
At the time of writing, the BBC is quite possibly the last remaining vestige of this country’s international credibility. It should come as no surprise then, that the vandals have their sights on that too.
As it happens, at the weekend, David Attenborough joined Instagram, to further accelerate his latest efforts, at the age of 93, to stem the tide of the climate crisis before it is too late. He beat a record held by Jennifer Aniston for the fastest person to a million followers. That is evidence of huge, international appeal. Moore and Dacre, of course, are both enthusiastic climate emergency deniers, though less enthusiastic recently, not that any of the evidence has changed.
There’s no doubting it wants to break the BBC. It makes no secret of it. It may have alighted on the people to do it. But beyond that, they have nothing to offer a world that is doing its best to move on from the values they sold.
Moore made his name as a journalist in the early 1980s, writing about inner-city riots. In a now well-known pamphlet called “The Old People of Lambeth,” he wrote of how “the old people of Lambeth can see with their own eyes that they are surrounded by people more primitive than they, who lack their respect for law and privacy.”
His campaign against the BBC became especially heightened after 2008, and specifically, the row over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand leaving lewd voicemail messages for the actor Andrew Sachs, live on air. He refused to pay his license fee and was eventually fined in court.
The comedic value of the Brand/Ross voicemails is a matter of personal taste. It was all a very long time ago. Both men have apologised. One was sacked. But what was certain at the time is that the most offended by it all were the kind of people who most embody that sort of pantomime caricature of kind, gentle and polite Britishness, which has never actually existed.
No one was affronted more than the Centre Court and the Last Night of the Proms crowd. That little societal strata is a hair’s breadth across, witless, tittering and rendered almost lobotomised by a uniquely potent cocktail of cognitive dissonance – specifically that of simultaneously not believing their own stunning luck in life yet not imagining for a second they are anything less than fully deserving of it.
In more recent times, Moore has written in The Spectator of how unconcerned he is by the prospect of Brexit-based food shortages, because of his native East Sussex’s historic links to smuggling: ‘Brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk .’ Make of that what you will.
To know of Dacre’s view on immigration, one only needs to search for the subject alongside the words “Daily Mail front page” on Google images. There is no shortage of subject material.
Of course, we cannot know what is to come from GB News until it begins broadcasting, apparently early next year. But the warning signs are there. In recent years, one of the more bizarre cries from Brexiteers, and this is certainly true of Neil, is that there is somehow a media conspiracy against them. Such people, it is already clear, will soon have a brand new TV channel to enjoy.
We shall have to wait and see where immigration will come into it, but in the meantime, all we can know is that nobody, certainly not Cummings, ever thought you could convince enough people to vote for Brexit without telling lies about immigration.
So what? We live in interesting times. There has been, over some decades, genuine progress in the march towards fairness, and now we must live with the backlash against it. And for those that potentially stand to lose through progress toward fairness, fairness already privileged, fairness feels like oppression.
The question, in the medium term, is how much more damage the backlash can unleash upon a future it is ultimately powerless to prevent. For the meantime, we must all live with its consequences in a country made less by old men, scared of a future they will scarcely be around to see.