Francis Beckett

Joan Bakewell, crowned “The Voice of Older People” by Harriet Harman in 2004, has lent herself – unintentionally, I think – to an attempt to corral the grey vote for David Cameron.

Unwisely, she chose to announce her resignation during the election campaign. She said: “I believe it is now time for the next Government to consider appointing a full-time Commissioner for Older People, as already exists in Wales and In Northern Ireland.”

So far, so good. But only the Daily Telegraph had the story; and the Daily Telegraph chose only to go to the holiday company Saga for comment.

It didn’t contact either of the two organisations which are run by older people and elect their leaders – the National Pensioners Convention and the University of the Third Age – nor even to the charities for the elderly, Age Concern and Help the Aged. It went only to a commercial organisation whose market is older people.

Saga’s comment came from Emma Soames of its magazine, “who” added the Telegraph “could be in the running to become England’s first Commissioner for Older People.” And it quote Ms Soames on what she evidently thought was the key issue affecting older people: the “attitude of a few feral teens who show no respect at all.”

Emma Soames (60) has, for several months now, been presenting herself in press releases as a self-appointed spokesperson for what she calls “the Saga generation” and has been nudging it gently – and sometimes not so gently – into the Conservative camp. According to her press releases, the breakdown of inter-Party talks on long term care for the elderly was entirely the fault of Labour and the Liberals. The sensible Conservatives tried hard to raise the issue above politics.

She issued a so-called manifesto for older people which was a thinly disguised plea to vote Tory. It endorsed such policies as the abolition of basic rate taxation of interest, and a universal state pension of £130 per week at age 70 based on residency “to make savings pay and reduce means tested benefits.”

It claimed that older people “rail against ageism they see in the BBC and the health service” but I suspect most older people do not think the BBC or the health service – both standard right wing whipping boys – are more ageist than, say, the Sun, or Playboy magazine.

It demanded more MPs with “experience of business” but I am not at all sure that we, as a generation, think there ought to be more former business people in Parliament. Some of us probably think that, after the mess the banks have made of our economy, we don’t want to be governed by business people.

I suspect many of us don’t want to be governed by Mr Cameron, either. And we’d better make sure our voice isn’t corralled by the Daily Telegraph, Saga and Ms Soames, or we soon will be.