How should we value the contribution of the different generations to our national story? How can we best honour our forefathers?
In Portsmouth last month, at the 75th anniversary of D Day, we witnessed the final appearance of the last remnants of the Greatest Generation, those who grew up through the Great Depression and threw themselves selflessly into the service of their country, sacrificing their best years and in many cases their lives to the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. To see them honoured by one of their own, our Queen, sent shivers of pride down my spine. No generation has ever made a bigger contribution to our nation’s welfare and none ever will. We owe them our lives and our liberty - in short, everything.
The Baby Boomers followed. They brought enterprise and self-expression. We let go of our colonies and of our inhibitions. The country they created was more colourful, more dynamic and more fun. But it was also more selfish and materialistic. Shopping replaced religion as people’s favourite way to spend a Sunday. We all wanted to own cars and televisions and take foreign holidays. Few gave any thought to the effect of our new habit of consumption on wildlife, on the cleanliness of our seas and rivers, let alone on the stability of our climate.
The generations that followed the Baby Boomers are picking up the pieces. They face many challenges. We have failed to protect our planet from global warming and now face a true climate emergency which will be hugely expensive to contain. We have failed to ensure that young people have the same chances to earn good wages and buy their own homes as their parents did. We have failed to make provision for old people to live out their final years in dignity, surrounded by compassion.
We need a new generation of leaders to grapple with these problems. Yet the two main parties have never seemed more irrelevant or out of ideas. I don’t know how much longer I have got as your MP - it may be no more than a few months. But in the time that remains I believe that best way for me to honour the generations that have gone before me is to break open our fossilised political system and help a new generation of leaders emerge. It won’t be easy; I may well fail. But if I succeed, I will feel that I can hold my head up high and look my forefathers in the eye, having made my contribution.