Summer school question time: after Mandela, after that royal birth – and the costs of old age
Despite a couple of late 'sick notes', Michael Kallenbach assembled a first rate team for what has become the Summer School’s annual Question Time.
The session before an audience in the Memorial Hall of about 170, was dominated by questions about the old – Mandela and the ballooning costs of Britain’s aging population, and by the not yet even very young – the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby.
Thirteen year-old Charlotte Randle asked what was described as the key question of the evening: “Do you think it’s fair that my generation will spend its whole life paying off other people’s debts, and as future taxpayers supporting an aging population”. That gave the panel something to get its teeth into later in the evening.
On the panel were Old Malburian Tom Newton Dunn, who is Political Editor of the Sun newspaper, and Lady Falkner, who speaks on foreign affairs for the Lib Dems in the House of Lords. Stepping in for late absentees were Tory MP from the 2010 election Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, and Lord Davies, who as Bryan Davies was first elected a Labour MP in 1974 and moved to the House of Lords in 1997.
The fifth member of the panel was Penny Junor - the well-known biographer of the royal family and a citizen of Wiltshire. The London Evening Standard had wondered aloud whether she was on the panel because someone at the College had inside knowledge about the imminent royal birth.
As it turned out the royal birth had not happened, but she had plenty of chance to talk about the future of the monarchy.
The question wanted the panel to be pretty far-sighted: “How will the new baby affect the format of the monarchy over the next hundred years.”
Ms Junor outlined the slimmed down royal family that was launched with the balcony appearance during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The Queen, Prince Philip, Charles, Camilla and William and Harry and their families (present and eventual) would dominate the monarchy – replacing the current eighteen royals who carry out public functions and are patrons of about six thousand charities.
The monarchy’s support for charities would in future come through Foundations like the one already set-up by William and Harry.
Ms Junor did think looking a hundred years ahead was a little too much of a good thing. Tom Newton Dunn told the audience it would probably be a hundred years “before the little blighter gets anywhere near the throne.”
He is not a fan of Prince Charles and his siblings: “I am a terrific fan of William – he will keep the monarchy going singlehanded.”
Lord Davies had just one comment: “I hope it’s a girl”.
The session had opened with a question about Andy Murray – no longer the popular question ‘Will he ever win Wimbledon?’ This time it was ‘Should he get a knighthood?’ The consensus was that despite his achievement, it was too early. Virginia Wade had not become a Dame for her 1977 victory. And Fred Perry was not knighted even after becoming champion three times.
A question about Nelson Mandela and what will follow his death brought agreement on one point: he should be allowed to die with dignity and without the press camped out at his hospital. What will come afterwards was less clear.
Lady Falkner made the telling point that once he had gone “It will appear to young people that their leaders are so different to Mandela – you’ll find very diminished leaders.”
Penny Junor had the bleakest view of the country’s future: “I greatly fear for the future of South Africa with its huge numbers of totally dispossessed people…The economy is fine. Its politicians are not so fine – I think they’re a nightmare actually. One day it will erupt.”
Answering a question about the effect of UKIP on the next election and how politicians can win back confidence of voters, the panel dismissed UKIP quite quickly. Though Ms Junor did point out that the only canvasser to come to her Wiltshire front door in twenty years was from UKIP during the May elections.
Nicola Blackwood emphasised the ‘huge amount of cynicism’ in the electorate and got a good - and sympathetic - laugh with the story of a man she encountered while campaigning who told her: “The reason there are so few women in politics is that it takes too long to put make-up on two faces.”
The serious point was that UKIP had merely provided a place for angry people to go – the winning party in 2015 would be the one to appeal most strongly to those angry people.
If there was anyone there from UKIP they might have noticed that the loudest applause of the evening came after Lord Davies expressed his amazement that anyone would consider cutting Britain off from Europe and from its markets.
Then to Charlotte Randle’s challenging question: who should pay for care of the elderly? Tom Newton Dunn said this question would dominate politics for the next fifty years.
He told Charlotte: “One pound in every seven the government spends goes on old people – that’s unsustainable unless you and your generation want to live in penury – in slavery to their grandparents.”
Penny Junor raised one of those almost taboo topics: “One day some politician will allow assisted suicide.” Her experience of care homes was not that they provided poor care but that many of those being cared for had “no quality of life, no future and their dignity had completely gone.”
A nurse in the audience raised the week’s news about the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) – which she said allowed people to die with dignity. She admitted some care had been poor, but it was not because of the pathway itself.
Interestingly the two coalition politicians said that the LCP had not been scrapped but was being revised – which is not what Lady Neuberger’s report and the headlines had said. Perhaps the policy is already changing.
It was the nurse’s opinion that “The press has a lot to answer for in this situation.” But then, as Tom Newton Dunn said when told UKIP had been created by the media: “It’s always the media’s fault.”