Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Why No British Grey Panthers?

I saw recently that a party named the Grey Panthers, won nearly 4 per cent of the vote in the Mecklemburg-Vorpommern regional elections on 17th September. Another point and the wrinklies would have won seats. I also note the Guardian today doubts if the Lib Dems will convince voters, rather than party conference delegates, that pensions should be more heavily taxed. I'm sure that is right as there are 16 per cent over 65s in the UK and their turnout figures are more than double those of 18-24 year olds.

But what surprises me is that the older vote is so poorly organized in Britain; no Grey Panthers over here. In the USA where 12 per cent are over 65 there is a national body which campaigns for the rights of older people. As I advance inexorably into these same ranks, I'm wondering why we don't do something similar.

There's the National Pensioners' Convention led for years by redoubtable trade-unionist, the 90 year old Jack Jones but which has succeeded only in being patronised by successive governments. And there's Age Concern of course, but that creaky institution is hardly comparable with the level of organization offered in the USA or indeed Mecklemburg-Vorpommern. Wrinkly power is yet to achieve self awareness and to flex its muscles but as our society continues to age-by 2025 one third of us will be over 55- this is a crucial sector of the electorate whose reliable votes are there to be won by the highest or most persuasive bidder.

Reading Tocqueville today I found an interesting little tidbit, in relation to your point about American vs British associations:

"Americans of all ages, conditions, and all dispositions constantly unite together." On the other hand, "The English often perform great things as single individuals, whereas scarcely any minor initiative exists where Americans do not form associations."

So, despite America's image of "rugged individualism", it seems that their society is more disposed to free association, and has been throughout its history. According to Tocqueville, that's because America is more democratic; "In aristocratic socities men feel no need to act in groups because they are strongly held together...But among democratic nations all citizens are independent and weak; they can achieve almost nothing by themselves and none of them could force his fellows to help him."
That's an excellent quote which I shall use when I do lectures on comparative UK-US topics. Thanks
Page 596 if you have the Penguin Classics edition. (Vol 2 part 2 ch 5.)
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