Poor Anthony Charles Linton Blair. Was ever a man more muddled? And all because of the m-word. Rightly sensing that marketing – or something rather like it – played a part in his electoral triumph of almost three years ago, he now regards it with the superstitious awe of a savage who has been given a box of matches. In our leader’s eyes there is nothing of which marketing is not capable. Take a focus group, stir in a slogan or two, add a touch of spin and presto! the miracle is wrought, the dream fulfilled.
This absurd faith in the manipulative arts found its most grandiose and offensive expression in the attempt to rebrand the entire country. For Blair, the UK is not an historical accretion of shared values and beliefs and time-honoured institutions that belongs to us all, but his personal plaything. (And one, moreover, which, in the manner of every small clumsy boy, he has broken.) Cool Britannia was never more than a marketing construct. Modern, new and improved, and with the added wonder ingredient Blairol, laboratory tested to keep its smile long after others have faded, it was all packaging. Just like the Millennium Dome, it came stuffed with all manner of bits and pieces, signifying nothing.
Following the feeble launch of Cool Britannia, a lesser man might have been daunted. But not Anthony. He blamed its lukewarm reception (along with everything else that stood in the way of his vision of all that was modern and therefore good) on the forces of conservatism and pressed ahead, his faith in marketing undiminished.
After rebranding a whole nation, to his satisfaction at any rate, it was time to turn to the component parts and give them a makeover too. And so it was announced last week that the Prime Minister wants to “rebrand pensioners with a trendy name that will appeal to younger people”. Some of Whitehall’s finest minds are said to be working on the problem, and the Government is also seeking outside help.
The new name is needed, explain the muddled marketers, because Alastair Darling is soon to be appointed the first minister for the over-fifties. The first reaction to this announcement is to pinch oneself. The second is to check that it was not made on April 1 (it was not). The third is to weep at the sheer otiose fatuity of it all. The idea can only have been created by minds shaped and conditioned by the poisonous doctrine of political correctness, which has at its heart a profound belief in the healing powers of euphemism. We have all laughed (well, most of us at any rate) when short people are redesignated as vertically challenged, the mentally ill as persons with learning difficulties, and so on. But, as The Americans are wont to say, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck. A pensioner by any other name would look as old. Anyway, we already have a euphemism for pensioner it’s senior citizen. True, it is used only by local authorities when issuing free bus passes, and the word citizen” belongs more to revolutionary France than to present-day Britain, but, as euphemisms go, it is no sillier than most. One thing it is most certainly not, however, is trendy, and trendy is, of course, what Anthony wants. None of the terms in common parlance will do. Mr Darling (who, with a name like that, should be Minister for the Performing Arts) would not thank you for being given the title of Secretary of State for Wrinklies. Or greys, or oldsters, or has-beens.
Bus conductors invented the term “twirly” to describe pensioners who, as the time for cheap morning travel nears, unfailingly chorus, “Are we too early?” Minister for Twirlies, however, somehow lacks gravitas.
The punning term “pittans” (because that is what they are expected to live on) has the merit of accuracy, but could hardly be expected to appeal to this government. Gravies” (from one foot in the…) has a certain trendiness but is too frivolous to commend itself to one so lacking in humour as Anthony. Alas, it seems no single word will suffice, so one is forced into the portmanteau school of euphemism, a linguistic device which translated shelf stackers into stock replenishment operatives, rubbish dumps into civic amenity sites, and, for all I know, grave diggers into eternity accommodation facilitators.
Since the aim of this Blairite exercise is to make age attractive to youth (Whitehall’s finest minds should first go into training by making water attractive to fire and, once they’ve cracked that one, making journalists attractive to anyone), a form of words must be found that strips old age of age and all its concomitant associations such as senility, decrepitude, proximity to death and so on. In short, age must be made cool and the replacement taken out of hip.
We were all young once, that is the point. So pensioners might be called something like tearaways emeritus” or quondam layabouts”. Latin, however, being far from modern, can have no part in New Labour’s world. So how about “one-time groovers”? Or “honorary dudes”?
After all, as Lord Asquith, a politician not half so distinguished as Blair, said, “Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life”.