Isn't It Time to Celebrate Maturity Rather Than Worship the Cult of Youth? AS PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR SEEKS TO RELAUNCH BRITAIN AS A YOUNG COUNTRY

Article excerpt


AUTUMN may be here, but a lot of people seem to think it is spring.

There is an unseasonable smell of youth in the air. Even the leader of the Conservative Party seems to have been smitten by the hormonal change that has overcome national life.

First he was observed sashaying through the Notting Hill Carnival in a baseball cap, then going out of his way to offend the Tory old guard in his pursuit of a zappy young image for the party.

The Prime Minister, of course, has gone further. Not only does he exude youth through every pore, but he has turned youth into a doctrine. He wants to throw out the stuffy old traditionalism that most foreigners - perhaps most British people - particularly associate with Britain, and replace it with an aura of youth and creativity.

The British Tourist Authority, having redesigned their logo, are busily at work on a video promoting these qualities. Anyone who questions the benefit of this overturn of national values is immediately condemned as a cantankerous old stick, whose opinions have no relevance to New Britain.

Youth carries all before it.

Now, while there is much to admire about New Labour, I would argue that it dangerous to be overzealous about making youth into a totem.

Mr Blair wants to rebrand Britain as a young country. But for this marketing initiative to be successful, the image he puts over must coincide with the reality. We may be fortunate that some glamour industries - pop music, advertising, fashion, design and restaurants are, for the moment, enjoying international acclaim.

BUT they are only the spume cresting a much deeper sea. No one except Mr Blair could really say that Britain is young, in terms of its demographics or history. Like other European nations, we have an ageing population.

There are plenty of countries around the world which are genuinely young, in the sense of having an imbalance of young people. One thinks of Brazil, Thailand and so on. But their youth is also a factor in their instability. Mr Blair will find that Britain still enjoys prestige for its long view. This is the wisdom of experience.

Young countries rarely have it.

Equally, Britain is outstanding for its long history, legitimising the administrations that govern it.

THERE has been no revolution in Britain since the 17th century. The last successful invasion of the mainland took place many centuries before that.

You only have to visit one of this country's great country houses, filled with treasures that have been accumulated over many generations, to appreciate the significance of continuity.

We used to be proud of the traditions, some of them inexplicable, which set us apart from other countries. They can be seen not just in the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace, but in law courts, livery companies, colleges, town halls, in fact, almost everywhere you look.

Only Britain, for example, has such a network of ancient footpaths, whose rights of way are regarded as sacrosanct even when the original purpose of the paths has been long forgotten.

But the traditional aspect of Britain makes little appeal to New Labour, with its naive belief that structures evolved over centuries can be replaced in an instant. Not that this is solely a weakness of Labour.

The last thing that the Conservatives did was conserve.

It is precisely Britain's long history as a democratic nation, with old institutions, settled habits and accepted codes of behaviour, which distinguishes it from most other countries.

We are not unique, but we are distinctly unusual. There are plenty of young countries around the globe - far too many, one might say, for one not to worry about its future peace. Britain should capitalise on its maturity.

With this maturity - undeniable as it is - go such intangible assets as honour, decency, integrity and dependability. …