Why I’ll leave the UK if Britain votes no to Europe | Oliver Imhof

I came to London 18 months ago, with the intention of studying here and going back to Germany when I got my degree. In the blink of an eye I fell in love with the British capital, its cultural diversity, its intellectual capacity and – of course – its amazing nightlife. After six months I was certain that I would stay as long as I could.

I paid for my education, I paid the horrendous rents in London, I paid £4.95 for a pint, all of it with foreign currency from my family. When I was not able to make a living off my income as a freelancer after graduating, I did not sign up for benefits but took work I am overqualified for because I was embarrassed to take money out of a system that I had not paid into.

Now I can finally live off what I make. It is not much, but enough to enjoy life in London and pay a bit of tax by the end of the year. That is also thanks to the British system, which gives everyone a chance and is much more flexible than in continental Europe. Besides my journalistic work, I teach German and politics, despite having no teaching degree. In Germany that would be simply impossible, people want experience and qualifications before they employ you, here they just give you a shot. If you are good, you are hired; if not, try something else.

That’s one of the reasons I like the UK so much. Its system is pragmatic and liberal, but still not as cold-hearted as somewhere such as the US, for example. If you make an effort to get somewhere, people appreciate it; if you are in trouble, they are still there for you.

This does not only apply to the labour market, but also in your private life. Brits are much more open-minded than Germans, they will not hesitate to invite you to a party or a drink, even if they barely know you. If you get along you stay in touch; if not – see you around, mate!

Needless to say, you have to make a bit of an effort to integrate. I speak good English, I have been to football grounds most Londoners have not even heard of, I do not impose German punctuality on everyone I meet since I am always late anyway and sometimes I’ll even try to taste ghastly food. And I hang out with British people, which is not always the norm as a foreigner in London.

Unfortunately not everyone tries as much as I do and I can understand the fears of British people regarding the cultural shift the country, and especially London, has gone through over the past decades. But migration is natural and the question of who is entitled to live somewhere is complicated.

This country hugely profits from EU migrants – economically and culturally. And don’t get me started on the cuisine – I don’t know how British people did not starve to death without the Italian, Turkish or Indian restaurants they have now.

I think most people actually know all of this deep down, and it would be an enormous shame if a whole country betrayed its European values because of a cockfight between two spoiled boys from the gentlemen’s club.

That is why I have decided to leave the UK if Britain should vote no. I will not go through the humiliation of getting a visa, and tackling even more border controls because David Cameron went that bit too far to secure his power. In a globalised and increasingly post-national world, more borders would be nothing but anachronistic and without the welfare corrective in Brussels the Tories are on course to turn the country into a neoliberal casino. It is time Britain realises it is not an empire any more, and that most problems nowadays are global and can only be solved within a supranational context. I will not live in a country that defies values such as the solidarity and human rights that a postwar Europe – including Britain – worked so hard for. If you vote no, you do not just say no to the Romanians and Bulgarians you are so irrationally afraid of but to all the visitors who enrich this country.

Already the Brexit campaign has comedy songs, ties and condoms. What’s next? | Joel Golby

It’s been a couple of days, so I think we’re all ready to admit now that we’ve processed Mandy Boylett’s seminal Britain’s Coming Home video. In case you have not, in case you do not surf constantly the web for the hottest memes and the sickest gifs and as such are unfamiliar with arguably the most important piece of work the country has produced since the Beatles, since Turner, then here you go.

So much, truly, to get the head around: the fact that Boylett does not have anyone else to recruit to be in the video and so just copies herself over in a wig; the fact that she cannot quite harmonise with this Blonde Other, despite being genetically the most likely person alive to be able to crawl over those same notes as her; the copyright infringement; the socks. And then the line, so iconic it can melt even the most hardened pro-EU voter, a line to make us all stop in our tracks and think a beat, delivered with a sort of slowly failing weakness, like a plane dipping out of the sky: “They’ve taken all our fi–i–ish.”

A pause.

“And money.”

Sadly, this isn’t even the sole absurd EU vote spinoff to emerge this week (this week! It’s only Thursday! Can you imagine what chaos the country will be in by Friday if we keep this nonsense up?). On Monday, it emerged Vote Leave had produced 2,000 branded condoms bearing the motto “It’s riskier to stay in” and were offering them out for students, which – and I don’t want to be the man to say, “Everyone from Vote Leave is an incurable virgin”, I don’t want all that responsibility on me – doesn’t even make sense. If you are pulling out – ie of Europe, or a consenting sex partner’s body – is the branded condom some sort of allegory for STI protection?

But then we’re getting into the muddied waters of what, exactly, Europe has transmitted to us in such a way – there is no medically recorded STI where one of the symptoms is “fish theft” – and then I suppose our (Britain’s) penis is the Channel Tunnel, and so … hmm … Actually, yes: probably best just to stop thinking about that one, stop thinking about that one altogether.

George Galloway and Nigel Farage Grassroots Out rally

The dream team of George Galloway and Nigel Farage. ‘Gorgeous achieved the impossible on Saturday, and sparked a walkout at a Grassroots Out Brexit rally hosted by Nigel Farage’ Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

You’re wondering if George Galloway has done something. Reader, of course he has. Gorgeous achieved the impossible on Saturday, and sparked a walkout at a Grassroots Out Brexit rally hosted by Nigel Farage. He didn’t even really do anything beyond “be George Galloway”: all he did was walk on to the stage in a full “pick-up artist negging students outside Topshop” regalia of a fedora and open shirt, and said “leave Europe” a lot. That wasn’t even the most offensive thing about the rally: that dishonour goes to Farage’s “Grassroots Out” necktie, Kermit-neon green stripes with black highlights, looking more like something the council has decided workers have to wear to be more visible to passing traffic than a piece of considered political propaganda.

But then the GO necktie is heavy with its own overtones: of rotary clubs and archaic freemasonry handshakes, of highly paid private school headmasters and general Middle Englandry. The GO tie says: “Vote Leave, and stay in this country and this country alone, with the kind of men who would sincerely wear this tie.” It says: “You don’t want those foreign men, with their confidence, with their good looks. You don’t want a handsome Roman emperor-looking Italian in a cashmere jumper. You want me, cowed over and angular from years of working in accounts, stoically wearing a racist British tie.” It says: “This is not a country you want to be part of”.

Remember that the Brexit referendum isn’t for another four months, or what may as well be 100,000 years at this current rate of play. What other delights await us? Because, if last year’s election is anything to go by, we are barely dipping our toes in the wacky politics silt. It’s not over until someone hammers the word “EUROPE” into a gigantic piece of limestone and poses with it near a children’s playground. It’s not over until Boris Johnson attempts to cross the Channel on stilts to prove a point. It’s not over until someone gets confused and tries to push a pro-independence campaign with the hashtag “#JeSuisBritain”. It’s not over until George Galloway does something else. It’s not over. It’s not over.

This racist backlash against refugees is the real crisis in Europe | Apostolis Fotiadis

A coalition of the inhumane is rising in Europe. A group of political leaders have been meeting this week in Vienna to coordinate how to seal the western Balkan refugee passage. The countries involved, including Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia, don’t want to risk hosting thousands of stranded people in their poor societies. They expect that by intentionally causing a humanitarian disaster in Greece they are going to stop the misery of the world getting in their backyard. Only this week Greece pleaded with Macedonia to reopen its border as 4,000 refugees became stranded.

Meanwhile the four Visegrád countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) who have not been not invited to join these discussions, are also at the forefront of this ideological campaign to seal the Balkan route. Their motivation is based on an Islamophobic narrative, as advocated by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, a self-declared enemy of liberal democracy and consolidator of a Christian front against the Islamisation of Europe.

Despite having accepted 90,000 people last year, Austria is the latest country to impose quotas on asylum seekers and send refugees towards Germany. Trying to avoid disaster in the forthcoming election against nationalist Heinz-Christian Strache and his Freedom party, its terrified leadership has moved from social-democratic moderation to rightwing extremism within a few months. Chancellor Faymann has been dwarfed by an emerging nationalist star, the 29-year-old minister of foreign affairs, Sebastian Kurz, who lobbied hard for the ringfencing of Greece after failing to force the Greek government into pushing back boats in the Aegean sea. The declaration produced after the meeting yesterday branded the refugee crisis an illegal migration issue, cynically ignoring the suffering of hundreds of thousand of people escaping war.

Consider for a minute the “invasion” these leaders are moving against. Figures show 34% of refugees are children, thousands of them unaccompanied. Another 20% are women.The vast majority of these people are families fleeing conflict. Just under half are Syrians escaping Islamic extremism themselves. The refugee influx amounts to less than 0.5% of the European population. This was never an unmanageable problem for the EU: it is an issue only for nation states. But resorting to nationalist fixes is a cheap solution.

Those finding comfort in virulent leaders are set for a huge surprise. The formal declaration of Europe failing to respond collectively to this crisis is about to cause a huge backlash to EU institutions. And the degradation of a system of institutions, no matter how ineffective and despised they may have become, will reverberate into homes. Nationalist hostility between states will mean decades of stable diplomatic relations deteriorate. The slowdown of economic activity throughout the continent will impact on pay packets too. When other problems strike, EU partners won’t be a stabilising factor to resort to. Mistrust and dishonesty are going to spread like a disease.

We have reached the point of no return without a plan. Greece cannot go on like this: mostly due to the fact that a sequence of political developments has brought its ineffective government to the largely unwanted place of defending the 1951 Refugee Convention in its desperation for a European solution for the arriving refugees. The UN high commissioner for refugees, visiting Athens this week, committed the UNHCR to increasing its involvement in reception operations in cooperation with the Greek government. He has to deliver on this as soon as possible. The European commission should do the only thing it does well: pick up the bill. It has a lot to lose if it doesn’t.

Furthermore, a UN humanitarian evacuation plan (from Turkey and Greece) reaching beyond the EU should be put in place immediately. If EU technocrats and state leaders won’t do it in Brussels there is another way. Last week Portugal offered to resettle refugees from Greece. Yesterday, Spanish regional officials reached an agreement for the transfer of a thousand migrants – bypassing the European Union’s slow moving relocation system. Smaller scale, decentralised solutions are easier to finance, legally feasible, and they set a precedent.

Democratic communities can do what states have failed to achieve by reacting to the real crisis Europe is facing today: the racist and nationalist backlash throughout the continent. There are a lot of people out there who remember well that the failure of Europe has been blamed on the weak in the past and where this leads. We will fight against it.

Why swapping partisan nastiness for olive branches would be smart | Andrew Rawnsley

When Michael Ashcroft published his unflattering biography of David Cameron – you’ll recall that it gave a starring part to the head of a dead pig – the Tory peer fell very ill. It was suggested to one of the prime minister’s closest friends that he wouldn’t be unhappy if his foe were to remain unwell. “Oh no,” laughed the friend. “David wants Ashcroft to die.”

So I don’t believe for a moment that the Tory leader has had a single forgiving feeling in his body towards Boris Johnson since the mayor of London crashed off the fence and into the Out camp, news he communicated to David Cameron in a text sent only just before he announced it to the world. You can put it down to vaulting vanity, naked ambition, a compulsion to gamble or schoolboy competition projected on to the national stage. I doubt the Tory leader wastes too much brain space weighing up the precise mix of motives that animated his rival. No, I think David Cameron just wants Boris to die.

He has staked his survival as prime minister, his place in history and, rather more importantly, his country’s future on this referendum. It is one of those defining moments when a leader finds out who are his foul-weather friends and who are his true enemies. After the first week of campaigning, it is now even more evident that David Cameron is going to have to look beyond the ranks of his own party for allies if he is to be sure of winning this.

Of course, he will be the de facto leader of the In campaign. His game plan is already clear. He will reprise what he did at the general election by presenting himself as the representative of stability and security in a turbulent and uncertain world while painting Boris and the rest of the Outers as a reckless risk with Britain’s future.

Experience suggests that David Cameron will front this sort of campaign rather well. We’d better get used to his attack lines, as we had better also get accustomed to the Outers moaning about scare-mongering, because the Cameron mantra is going to be on a continuous loop from now until the votes are weighed. Investment down. Prices up. Trade hit. Jobs lost. Security compromised. Migration more difficult to control. Terrorists harder to stop. Safety first. He will hammer these messages until they have penetrated the consciousness of the least engaged voter. Pundits will soon be calling his campaign boring and negative. But that strategy confounded their expectations in May 2015 and got him back into Number 10. It will work again, so he hopes, to keep Britain in Europe in June 2016.

There is, though, a critical difference between this referendum campaign and the general election. Then, he had the Tory party united behind him and the Tory press as allies and amplification system. Now Toryworld is vividly split. The majority of Tory activists want out of the EU. The Tory press is very largely lined up on the other side and firing its guns at the Tory leader. Going on for half of Conservative MPs have declared for leaving the EU, a higher number than Downing Street originally bargained for, and there are more Out sympathisers lurking in the government who have not revealed themselves for careerist reasons. The opinion polls, for what they are worth, reckon that Tory voters are pretty much evenly divided between In and Out.

That division was manifest when the prime minister presented his case to the Commons. Received in silence by most of his own side, and then peppered with unfriendly fire from his backbenches, he had to rely on the opposition for supportive noise. It was from there that he won the greatest laughs when he ridiculed the mayor of London.

This underlined just how important it is for David Cameron that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Nationalists campaign for an In vote and mobilise their supporters to the polling stations to cast a ballot for remaining within the EU. On paper, they are all signed up to doing so, but how much energy and conviction they will put into it is still moot.

The cause is evidently not going to get much help from Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is a life-long sceptic and as such was never anyway going to be a terribly convincing advocate for continued membership. This makes some pro-Europeans in Labour’s ranks despair, but at the level of personal political calculation, I suppose it makes a sort of sense. Mr Corbyn’s career fortunes are not tied to the June referendum, but to the results of the May elections for the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly, mayoralty of London and English local councils.

Those contests, slap bang in the middle of the referendum campaign, are a big complicating factor. At the best of times, British politics is a tribal affair that makes it a psychological struggle for supporters of other parties to beat an enthusiastic drum for the chieftain of the enemy clan, even when they agree with him about a particular issue and even when the question is as momentous as this one. Nick Clegg made a supportive intervention in the Commons and the prime minister thanked the ex Lib Dem leader for it with a reference to him as “my former colleague”. That will remind Lib Dems, if they needed reminding, that their party was ruthlessly cannibalised by the Tories at the election.

In the mind of many a Scottish Nationalist must surely lurk the thought that a defeat for Mr Cameron over Europe could advance their over-arching ambition of independence. For Labour people, there is this dilemma: how much of their time and resources do they divert from fighting against the Tories in the May contests to battle alongside the Tory leader over Europe? Strategists for the In campaign are profoundly anxious about how much of the Labour vote will turn out for the referendum and what Labour supporters will do in the polling stations even if they make the journey.

David Cameron has it in his power to make supporting him in the referendum a more attractive proposition for the opposition parties and their voters. There are things that he can do and would be wise to do to make it easier for them to come to his aid. One is to be careful with his tone. He needs to sound at all times like a leader addressing the whole country, and a leader with the interests of the whole country at heart, rather than just the leader of a Tory faction only talking to the Tory portion of the nation.

It would also make sense to instruct his staff at Number 10 and his colleagues in government to avoid doing anything egregiously offensive to the opposition parties or their voters. It is unrealistic to expect all domestic rough and tumble to stop for the duration of the referendum, but when you need all the support you can get from the opposition, it would be smart for the prime minister to go easy on the partisan aggression. Better still would be to proffer some olive branches.

Relations between government and opposition are not supposed to be sweet, but they are particularly sour at the moment because of the way the Tories have acted since the general election. Two moves have caused particularly intense anger in other parties. One is the trade union legislation currently winding its way through the Lords. This attacks the ability of the unions to raise money for Labour and for political activity more generally while leaving unaddressed the many issues around the way the Tory party is financed.

With this nakedly partisan behaviour, the Tories have broken with the postwar convention that there should be cross-party consensus about changes to party funding. Alan Johnson, the leader of the Labour In campaign, is exhorting the trades unions to “get their chequebooks out” to help with the referendum. He is clearly nervous that they appear resistant to doing so. Many union leaders, even those sympathetic to the cause and fearful of what Brexit would mean for their members, are reluctant to deploy their cash or their organisational muscle to assist David Cameron with his referendum when he is assaulting their ability to raise money for campaigning. If he wants some union help, the prime minister needs to give the unions some incentive to help.

Another self-serving gambit made by the Conservatives since the election has outraged Labour, the Lib Dems and the Nationalists. That is the substantial cut to the “Short money” that supports the activities of the opposition parties in parliament. This blatant device to advantage the government over the opposition was slipped out by George Osborne at the time of his last financial statement back in December.

The chancellor has a budget coming up in March. That would be an appropriate moment to announce that the government has heard the many complaints that this move is vindictively partisan and is thinking again.

David Cameron is going to need the help of the opposition parties to win this referendum. If he is smart, he will reach out to them. He will help himself by making it more comfortable for them to help him. When his own party heaves with enemies, he needs to look elsewhere to find every friend he can get.

The EU isn’t just about business. That’s why I think Scotland will vote to stay | Nicola Sturgeon

The people of Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, will soon decide whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union. The Scottish government believes that continued EU membership is in the best interests of Scotland. We would much prefer Scotland to be one of the independent member states of the EU – and hope that in future we will be. However, whether independent or part of the UK, we believe that we are better off in than out. As such, the Scottish government will make a positive and constructive case for remaining in the EU. I believe that we benefit from being part of the EU, and the EU benefits from having us a part of it.

For more than 40 years, membership of the EU has been good for the prosperity and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities across the country. Just look at some of the social protections the EU has established: the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of age, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity; maternity and parental leave entitlement; the right to paid holidays; the right to work for no more than 48 hours each week – all of these are enshrined in EU law.

These social benefits need to be articulated just as strongly as the economic benefits of membership. But the economic benefits matter too. As part of the EU, UK firms have the huge advantage of being able to work in the world’s largest trading area of 500 million consumers. For Scotland, this is crucial, as the EU is our top overseas exports destination: 42% of our exports outside the UK in 2014 – worth more than £11bn – were sold into the EU market. Membership of the single market also helps to support more than 300,000 jobs in Scotland.

Iain Duncan Smith on Tory tensions: ‘play the ball, not the man’ – video

Having access to the European single market has removed barriers to trade and gives freedom to move capital, people, goods and services – but the EU is not simply an economic union, it is so much more than that. Being part of the EU is also about solidarity, social protection and mutual support. This has become even more evident in the recent months, with members of the EU working collectively on pressing global challenges, such as the movement of refugees and migrants, energy security and climate change. By working together within the EU, we can achieve far more and make a real difference to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

While it’s clear that being a member of the EU has its benefits, within any institution improvements can be made. If we are to influence positive change in Europe, we must remain within it – only that guarantees our role in the EU decision-making processes on issues that affect our everyday lives. Right now, as a member of the EU, the UK sits at the top table in Brussels, with the opportunity to shape EU policy and make a positive contribution to Europe. As Norway’s former foreign minister Espen Barth Eide has said, as a member of the European Economic Area as opposed to the EU, Norway makes a substantial contribution to the EU budget, but has no vote and no presence when crucial decisions that affect the daily lives of its citizens are made.

Two weeks ago, as European leaders were forced to break off from discussing the refugee crisis in order to negotiate the taper rate at which the UK can cut benefits for working EU citizens, I can’t have been the only person wondering whether the UK’s standing in the world was really being enhanced by that process. In the weeks ahead, both sides of the debate must aspire to higher ideals.

A concern for Scotland is the prospect of voting to stay in but being taken out of the EU on the strength of a UK-wide vote. I have repeatedly made it clear that such a scenario would, in my view, lead to strong demands for a second independence referendum. Indeed, I have met people who voted no in September 2014 who say they would vote yes in such circumstances. However, I have also been clear that this is not a scenario I want to see unfold. A UK vote to leave the EU is not the circumstance in which I would choose to fight a second independence referendum – but as first minister I would have a duty to listen to the demands for such a vote.

While I take nothing for granted, I believe that in June people in Scotland will demonstrate their support for remaining in the EU. My hope is that the rest of the UK will share that commitment. Because if it does, it will be good for Scotland, good for the UK and good for Europe.

Why should Iain Duncan Smith have access to EU referendum papers? | Archie Bland

This will shock you, but I’m not completely convinced that Iain Duncan Smith’s world view comes from a place of objectively rational analysis. Here, then, for Iain’s sake, are an allegory and a question. IDS’s usual team is playing a football match, but the opposition have turned up with 10 men, and since IDS has always rather liked them and his own side have a couple of substitutes spare, he is allowed to switch teams for the day. He can cheer on his new team-mates, and if he shimmies past a couple of tackles and hits one into the top corner, it will still count as a goal. His usual team will, likewise, try to tackle him. Everyone is comfortable with the agreement, and so Iain pulls on his new kit. Then, just as David gets his side into a huddle and starts to run through his plan to deploy overlapping wing-backs and a pressing game, he notices that Iain has stuck his head into the circle, and is listening intently. In such circumstances, would it be unreasonable to tell him to piss off?

It doesn’t seem so to me; the Brexit campaign, however, would argue otherwise. Tomorrow, the Commons public administration select committee, led by Bernard Jenkin, will question cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood over plans to deny anti-EU cabinet members access to new government papers that could be used as part of the referendum campaign. IDS doesn’t like this. “This can’t possibly apply,” the Brexit bulldog told Andrew Marr, “because we are responsible for the departments.” Neither does his fellow Eurosceptic George Eustice, who said that it would be “very dangerous … for the civil service to get into a position of saying there’s a type of minister who can’t have access to this information”. The implication of such a stance, he went on, would be that “Eurosceptic ministers can’t be part of the government in future”.

At which the mind boggles a bit. It’s surreal that it should be necessary to do so, but for the benefit of Eustice and his colleagues, let’s review the situation. The government has a clearly stated policy on the EU referendum. In normal circumstances, any minister who felt compelled to speak out against the government position would have to resign. But in this case, ministers are allowed to campaign against the government – even, in IDS’s case, to accuse his boss of having “a low opinion of the British people” and being an advocate of a policy that will leave us “at risk of terrorist attack” – all without facing censure. According to IDS, that agreement is not enough: as well as loaning their players to the other side, the government is expected to hand over a full tactical briefing as well.

All this will doubtless play well for the leave campaign which, as David Cameron suggested last week, had a lot to gain from portraying the fight as “the establishment versus the rebel alliance”. It is, nonetheless, cobblers. The fact that the Conservatives are so deeply torn over the subject of Europe doesn’t mean that the elected government is obliged to donate its resources to those who oppose our membership. We would have thought it a bit rich if the SNP had made the same complaint during the Scottish independence campaign. This is no different. And if Jenkin is going to accuse the government of making opportunistic use of its constitutional powers to achieve partisan ends, he should be very careful: the man who will use his parliamentary committee to haul the cabinet secretary over the coals is, of course, an arch Eurosceptic.

It’s tiresome, all this: such pedantic matters of procedure don’t feel like the inspirational debate that we were promised. If the leave campaign does continue to harp on the subject, it ought to find its ability to sneer at those on the other side for their lack of an optimistic vision severely compromised. Yesterday IDS, in predictably schoolmasterish fashion, urged Cameron, “don’t play the person, play the ball”. We might say the same back to him, and add: play by the rules.

Democrats v autocrats in Africa: is there a winning formula? – podcast transcript

Reports and presenters

HM Hugh Muir


PK Patience Akumu

RJ Richard Joseph

PC Phil Clark

VP Vox pop

PA There isn’t any possibility of Museveni not winning. He has the votes, he has the support from the Ugandans.

VP I’m voting for Kizza Besigye because the youth are the majority population today and they all want him. We don’t need police this time around to interfere in the elections. We need a free and fair election.

HM Hello, I’m Hugh Muir. This month we’re looking at governance, democracy and the trade-offs that are sometimes made between development and freedom. We’ll also be talking about the big man phenomenon, and whether such leaders can ever benefit their people. This is the Global development podcast from the Guardian.

VP I’m voting for Kizza Besigye as my president of Uganda. There are people just suffering, there’s no food for people, things are very expensive.

VP We are suffering, we are dying. We [are] going to succeed, we don’t even allow him – this is the last chance for him. This is the last chance.

VP There is no joke, I’m on the street, I’m looking for work, I don’t see where the hope is.

VP I like Museveni because he gave us peace and OK – now we women can enjoy, we can talk, we can do whatever we want in Uganda. We work like men and whatever we want we can do it. We still like him – it’s been more than 30 years, and we are many.

VP I’m voting for Museveni. Basically Museveni is thinking about youth. He’s trying his best to see that youth get employed, and he has created a number of possibilities for youth to start working. Exactly, that’s why I also go for him because to me he’s the best. We believe there is a winner and a loser, but I believe we are going to win.

HM One of Africa’s quintessential big men is the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. Last week Ugandans voted in the presidential elections and to no one’s great surprise Museveni romped home with 60.8% of the vote. And then he went on to place his main opponent under house arrest. On the phone now to tell us how that happened is Patience Akumu, she’s a human rights activist and she’s in Kampala. Patience, so President Museveni, for those unfamiliar with him, who is he and tell us how long has he been in power?

PA Museveni has been in power for 30 years now. We had the election last week, which was a total farce. The opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, was arrested more than four times in a single week and it was very clear that it wasn’t a fair playing field right from the beginning during elections. And even after voting nobody was allowed to tally the votes and nobody was allowed to have any form of documentation of what was happening in terms of vote counting, apart from the electoral commission.

HM He was arrested four times. What for?

PA The reasons for his arrest were – the first time was that he had too big a crowd and the other time he was arrested because he was trying to hold a press conference. He’s been arrested because he’s trying to express his grievances, he’s trying to say no, the elections were not free and fair, but right now he’s not even allowed to say that and so he’s been arrested for auditing. People who work for him have been arrested for tallying results and for saying look, these results don’t make sense – the statistics don’t make sense. So right now in Kampala it’s illegal to question the results, it’s illegal to say no, the election [wasn’t] free and fair. If you go to the streets you will meet army men in full battle fatigue ready to deal with anyone who dares voice an opinion that is against what the establishment has said. Museveni has won elections and nobody should express displeasure. They expect that life should go on and we should accept him for another five years and that will be 35 years of Museveni in power.

HM So against that kind of background was there any chance that he might ever lose that presidency? That he might lose that election?

PA There was always hope that maybe Museveni this time around might give us a credible election or that at first people thought that he might not even run. But Museveni is not about to leave power, at least not through elections. There is the question of age limits that’s coming up. The next time, in 2021, he won’t be eligible to run because he will be about 75, but then he has tinkered with the constitution before and he removed some limits. So removing age limits is not beyond Museveni, so it looks like Museveni is here to stay a long time and he’s not going anywhere.

HM Obviously it’s very difficult for people to express a view about that publicly without getting themselves into trouble, but are you getting some sense of how people really feel about that, the continued rule of Museveni?

PA Well, there has been a lot of anger expressed on social media. During the election social media was blocked but Ugandans found a way around it – 1.5 million downloads of VPN in a day and everybody was back on social media within 24 hours or so. The reaction was bitter – people said that this was a sham election, this cannot happen, they are raping us. Democracy is on trial in Uganda. So there is a lot of bitterness, there’s a lot of anger, but also it is very suppressed because people know that if they express it, say, beyond social media then it’s their lives on the line.

HM OK, Patience Akumu there in Kampala, thank you very much for that. So as we’ve heard, President Museveni has been in power since 1986. The former rebel leader is one of the continent’s leading statesmen. He’s also a key western ally who’s pushed his country to take a pivotal regional role by intervening in conflicts in South Sudan and Somalia. He’s been credited with bringing stability to Uganda after years of chaos under Idi Amin. And Museveni’s not alone. Several other long-serving African leaders have changed their constitutions to allow them to stay even longer in power, among them Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Djibouti’s Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, Denis Sassou Nguesso in the Republic of Congo and Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi. Other African leaders have ruled for more than three decades, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, who’s just turned 92.

And Africa’s not the only continent with leaders who seem unwilling to relinquish the reins. Singapore’s late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew held that post for more than three decades. Ayatollah Ali Khomeini has been supreme leader of Iran since 1989.

So what are the pros and cons of long-term leaders and are there any ways to mitigate their grip on power? Joining me to discuss that are, in Florida, Professor Richard Joseph who’s the John Evans professor of international history and politics at Northwestern University; and here in the studio with me, Dr Phil Clark from the School of Oriental and African Studies, or SOAS, at the University of London. Welcome to both of you.

So we’ve heard about Museveni and his grip on power and about the allegations of fraud and imprisonment of his main rival, but Dr Clark, has he in any sense been good for Uganda?

PC Museveni, like a lot of big men, has been very good for parts of the population that he considers loyal to him. So Museveni comes from the west of the country, he’s tended to have very extensive development programmes in the west, the national infrastructure is very good in that part of the country, but if you go elsewhere in Uganda his presidency has been a complete disaster. There’s been very little development, very little infrastructure, particularly in orthern Uganda – there’s a sense that the government has completely neglected that part of the country. And that’s something that we see with big men right across Africa, that they tend to favour groups that are loyal to them, often for ethnic or regional reasons, but the rest of their countries tend to be highly neglected. So it’s a very mixed picture in Uganda.

HM Dr Joseph, let’s broaden it a bit and talk about other countries that have this phenomenon as well. Do we see any examples of this in play where it’s been seen to be a beneficial thing?

RJ I think if you take countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia, those are countries that are sort of the model countries now in Africa in being able to combine autocratic rule together with high levels of socio-economic development and also playing a significant role in terms of regional security. I would cite those cases as cases that are sort of the reference points within Africa, similar to Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew.

HM Is it possible, Phil Clark, to have democracy as we know it and progress in many of these countries?

PC I think Richard puts his finger on a very important development right across Africa at the moment, which is that the fastest growing economies and also the economies where we’re seeing the spreading of wealth across the population are in fact coming from very autocratic governments. And this is a real challenge for international donors because the donor view has always been we need democracy and we need economic development to go hand in hand. In fact what we’re seeing at the moment is that the greatest cases of economic development in Africa tend to be in very despotic states and we struggle, I think, at the moment to find democratic states in Africa that in fact are doing very well economically.

States that tend to have very strong democracies in Africa are often very open to a high degree of opposition and contestation which has disrupted their economic policies. The governments that have been most focused economically are the ones that haven’t had to worry about political opposition because they’ve already eliminated them. So this is a real bind and it’s something that donors are really struggling to get their head around at the moment.

HM Richard Joseph, that’s something that the countries that give the aid and then the NGOs and the donors – it’s very difficult to get your head round the idea that a country might feel that its best opportunity for advancement is not to have democracy as we know it.

RJ Yes, it’s a very big problem and if we take the case, let’s take Ethiopia as an example – their big man, Meles, passed on but his successor, they have continued the same system that he put in place.

HM When one big man goes they just go looking for another one, the system remains intact?

RJ Yes, and some countries have found a way to institutionalise it with some turnover together with top-down governance. We see that Mozambique and Tanzania have introduced a very interesting model where it’s still very much a very dominant single party, I mean they might have opposition but a dominant party, but where they have a turnover in the top office. So that’s a variation, but it’s a variation in a pattern that we’re seeing all over.

HM Phil Clark, we’re always concerned about human rights in these contexts. Are they always going to be a casualty in a scenario like this?

PC I don’t think they have to be and I think it would be dangerous to think that only autocratic states can develop. I mean, I think that is the situation we’re seeing across Africa at the moment but it’s not to say that that will continue 10, 15 years down the track. The point that governments like the one in Rwanda and Ethiopia often make is that when the west talks about human rights, the west tends to focus on political and civil rights. It tends to talk about the freedom of the press, the freedom of association, the freedom of the political opposition, but the west tends not to talk about socio-economic rights, and so countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia at the moment are trying to put, I think, socio-economic rights back on the agenda – to say, if you’re going to emphasise a rights discourse why don’t we also start to talk about economic development? We’ve dragged our populations out of poverty, we’ve helped our population recover from massive conflict and we’re seeing a degree of prosperity now that people would have thought was impossible 10 or 15 years ago, so give us some credit for our achievements in terms of socio-economic rights. That’s not to excuse them of course for their downfalls in other areas of human rights, but I think the argument about socio-economic rights is a very important one.

HM Professor Joseph, is there a middle way where the external actors will always say, “Look at our model of democracy.” Some of these countries may well say – well, actually, that doesn’t work for us. We’re not particularly happy with their model, but is there something in the middle? I think you mentioned something about a reasonable amount of democracy. How might that work?

RJ I don’t think there is any grand plan now, especially coming from western democracies with regard to Africa. I think it’s a case of taking the opportunities where they present themselves, and so if you look at the Nigerian elections last year, where the external actors, especially the United States, played a very significant role in putting pressure on the regime to make sure that you had fair elections and it was a handover on power. So they will take it where the opportunities present themselves but I’m saying that in most cases they find right now they’re at a disadvantage, and quite frankly they’ve got bigger fish to fry. I hate to put it that way but in terms of the global system, what’s going on in the Middle East and so on, Afghanistan, even Ukraine and so on, there’s far more significance on the global level.

HM Phil Clark, what kind of pressure can we put on, because you can have a situation where the big man actually is a force for good for a while, and then ceases to be a force for good that you then can’t do anything about it and these people can’t get them out. If you think about Zimbabwe and Mugabe’s situation there, what can we do about that, because you can see what the attraction would be in the early years and then how it would degrade later on but can’t do anything about it?

PC I think if change is going to happen it has to come from the grass roots, it has to come domestically and I think that’s part of the lesson at least of the north African cases in the last few years, that if you’re going to see big men toppled that tends to come from everyday citizens rather than pressure from the outside. So I’m quite sceptical actually of the role that international donors, for example, can play in this regard. And also donors are part of the problem here. I mean, if we look at most of the big men across Africa, the likes of Museveni and Meles and Kagame and others, these are all very close allies of the west. They’ve made themselves absolutely indispensable to the international system. They’ve been part of peacekeeping missions, they’ve been part of international donor agency pushes, they’ve become part of the international system.

The other thing of course that these governments know and that these big men leaders know fully well is that often the donors need them more than they need the donors, particularly for the US and the UK. They look at a country like Rwanda which has a very sketchy record in terms of political and civil rights but the donors need success stories. They don’t have many cases, especially in Africa, of countries that use aid extremely effectively, and Rwanda does exactly that. And the Rwandan government knows that, they know that the US and the UK are in a bind and so they’re able to push ahead with their policies in the knowledge that the donors aren’t able to say very much, they don’t have very much wriggle room. So there’s a consciousness within these African governments of donor priorities and they use that to their own advantage.

HM But it does mean an impasse, doesn’t it, because if you’re right and only the people can shift the big man, if you think about a situation like in Uganda now as was described by Patience earlier, they can’t do anything about Museveni, can they?

PC That’s right, and I think that’s what happens when you’ve been in power for 30 years. I mean Museveni did record I think some really important socio-economic successes in the first 10 or 15 years. He’s been a disaster in terms of issues of peace and conflict. Of course northern Uganda was racked by the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army for the best part of two decades and much of that can be laid at the feet of Museveni’s government, but on the social and the economic front for the first decade or so Museveni’s government was extremely successful, but we saw corruption begin to eat away at that regime. We now see one of Africa’s most unequal societies with very little development in the north and other parts of Uganda and today we would have to describe Museveni’s government as an economic and social basket case. So the situation can change over time.

HM Richard Joseph, is it a situation where the big men almost understand the external actors too well? They know how to play them?

RJ Oh definitely and again I’m saying for those of us who go back a bit, this is very much reminiscent of the way in which during the Cold War period many African leaders, I mean leaders not only in Africa but elsewhere, were able to take advantage of the external community and we see a repeat of that in the modern era. But if you look at the cases, and I just want to say with regard to what Phil said earlier, there’s always a triangular process in play and the triangular process is the regime, the opposition to the regime and external actors. And those three, how they play out is very important to see – and it’s not simply a case of people rising up from below which is important. You look at the case of Burkina Faso, you look at Senegal, you look at Mali, you look at Nigeria, cases where you have that, but you also, in all of those cases, you really need external actors willing to very strategically invest efforts on behalf of those trying to maintain democratic countries or change them. So the external actors are able to make a difference.

HM OK. Phil Clark, I’ll give the last word to you. When we reflect on what’s happened in Uganda and the pattern that that follows, are you optimistic for what might follow next in other countries? Do you think the direction of travel is a good one?

PC No. I’d like to be optimistic but it’s very difficult to be optimistic at this point. I think we’re likely to see the likes of Museveni continue to stay in power – not just in the Ugandan case, but right across the continent.

HM But more like that as well?

PC I think so, I think that there is to a certain extent even learning across borders. I think different African leaders have been learning lessons from one another. I do a lot of research in both Rwanda and Uganda and there’s absolutely no doubt that Kagame has had his notebook out learning lessons from Museveni for the best part of the last three decades. These leaders are copying each other’s tactics, particularly in terms of dealing with the opposition and trying to bring their own populations on board. I think we’re likely, unfortunately, to see a continuation of this big man phenomenon.

HM Right, so the big man will be with us for some time yet. Thank you all. That’s all we have time for this week on this Global development podcast. My thanks to our guests, Professor Richard Joseph, Patience Akumu and Phil Clark. The producer was Simon Barnard, I’m Hugh Muir. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next month.

If David Cameron is so smart, why is he waging war on his referendum allies? | Polly Toynbee

Does David Cameron sincerely want to win this referendum? He gives every appearance of ignoring what it takes – and time is short. Without Labour votes, Britain will be out of Europe and Cameron out of office as the most disastrous prime minister since Lord North lost America.

Labour canvassers door-knocking for May’s elections find their voters to be mainly EU inners, but many see this as Cameron’s campaign – and itch to give him a bloody nose. They only need to sit on their hands on referendum day to watch his own Tory bastards kicking his head in for them. They’d be cutting off their noses and the nation’s too, but they may be sorely tempted.

Flashman bully at prime minister’s questions, entitled and spoilt, Cameron has never had to fight for anything much, sauntering into the premiership “because I thought I’d be good at it”. But now he faces the fight of his life. For the first time he confronts that wall of sound from his erstwhile myrmidons, the entire Tory press. Day after day they bellow anti-EU, anti-migrant, anti-Cameron stories. “Welcome to our world!” a leading shadow cabinet member says, strongly pro-EU but unable to resist a chortle.

This is what Labour faces at every election, and now Cameron gets a blast of that toxic injustice. For Murdoch, Dacre and the Barclay brothers this has become a thuggish trial of strength: who rules, the elected government or them?

Surrounded by unaccustomed enemies, Cameron needs new allies. “Friends” is impossible, but he must strike up a temporary truce with Labour voters. Instead, he has embarked on an unprecedented anti-democratic assault on the very idea of opposition, seizing on Labour’s weakness like some power-mad dictator, just because he can.

In the Lords his trade union bill’s key purpose is to neuter unions by preventing them from raising funds effectively through the check-off system in pay slips, stripping away Labour’s prime funding base. At the same time George Osborne is cutting the Short money that funds the operation of politics, by 24% for Labour over the parliament, with no equalising reform to the Tories’ funding by plutocrats. Labour in power tried to reform funding but scrupulously insisted on cross-party consent, which the Tories of course refused.

Now add in Cameron’s stuffing of the Lords. No prime minister has added so many so fast – 244, with 56 since the last election. Now he plans another 40, angered at the loss of the Lords’ inbuilt Tory majority, though every Labour government has always faced a Tory Lords stoically, without creating hundreds of Labour peers.

What’s more, Cameron is axing 50 MPs to “cut the cost of politics”, while swelling the Lords to a colossal 816. It’s gerrymandering, since reducing MPs abolishes many more Labour than Tory seats, and representatives from the north, Scotland and Wales are replaced by more from the rich Tory south. The Strathclyde review plans to diminish what the Lords can debate.

Add in the shocking destruction of the electoral register, where at least 800,000 have been knocked off. The list, already missing many poorer and younger voters, now requires individual registrations, with students no longer block-registered by colleges. Many will dash to register for the June EU referendum – but Cameron forbids use of this new fuller register to re-draw constituency boundaries, ignoring the electoral commission’s protests. The net effect of all this means Labour will need a far greater swing to win than in 1997.

But it seems neutering opposition in parliament is not enough: charities and trade unions have been gagged in the year before elections. Now any charity in receipt of a grant is to be silenced permanently, to stop voices trusted by the public revealing the effects of government cuts. Anti-democratic and authoritarian, all this is designed to cripple opposition.

In this climate of hostility, Cameron seeks to woo Labour voters to save his bacon. Chris Bryant, the shadow leader of the house, is considering sabotage and revolt. By withdrawing all co-operation with Tory whips, Labour can make the government’s life hell, with ambushes on votes, forced all-night debates, and filibusters on the finance bill after this month’s budget.

One example: the Tories have no majority on the members’ estimates committee, which allots parliamentary money. This means all MPs’ committees can be grounded, with no spending on foreign trips. Other committees can be rendered inquorate – stymied – if Labour fails to turn up.

Expect sudden votes when Tory MPs are meeting or at a Downing Street reception. Calling unexpected votes takes only a few Labour MPs, while the government needs all its members at the ready. Spanners can be hurled in the works in myriad ways. Cameron’s hydra-headed assault justifies wrecking tactics; he should ask himself if total war is how to win the referendum.

Britain’s future in Europe is too serious to risk for short-term party advantage. Cameron will be gone anyway – but Britain would be out for ever. Labour’s in campaign is penniless: Alan Johnson needs ringfenced donations, so Cameron and the all-party Stronger Ins must redirect donors to him.

Humble pie is a dish unknown to this prime minister, but he had better try some. He can draw back from these measures. Remove the check-off clause from the trade union bill. Keep Short money rising with inflation. Let colleges register students to vote. Invest in a major voter-registration campaign – and let the boundary commission use the post-referendum register to redraw constituencies. Abandon the Strathclyde restrictions on Lords’ powers – and stop stacking the red benches with Tories.

It would be wise for Osborne – whose career hangs by the same thread in this referendum – to eschew a deliberately provocative political budget on 16 March. Hostilities will never cease. How could they when you look at the Tory devastation of local government, the NHS and public services? But self-preservation requires Cameron and Osborne to back off.

Ask Downing Street how likely that is, and you begin to hear an inkling of a new tone. Remember, they say, how adept Cameron is at winning elections. He’s a smart man. He’s listening. So let’s see if he can be a one-nation leader, if only for this referendum. And eat up his humble pie.

Comments on this article will be launched later this morning (UK time)

Women could decide the EU referendum, and they don’t want the Dave and Boris show | Mary Creagh

The EU referendum has created some strange bedfellows. Nigel Farage and George Galloway; Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have all united to campaign for a leave vote. And last week, I found myself in the unusual position of arguing that we should remain alongside former Tory minister Edwina Currie on Radio 5 Live.

The EU referendum is perhaps not the first thing people associate with the UK’s fashion industry, which was on display a week ago during London fashion week. From having almost zero presence on the international fashion scene just 20 years ago, London has risen up the ranks and now sits alongside Milan and Paris as a globally celebrated fashion capital. The UK produces and attracts the top creative talent in the industry. Established and aspiring designers come here to exchange knowledge, show off their ideas and flaunt their designs. That Britain’s fashion industry is a world leader is, in part, thanks to our EU membership and the market access it gives us.

That is why designers like Amanda Wakeley and Alison Loehnis, president of luxury clothing group Net-a-Porter, have spoken out in favour of remaining in the EU. The UK fashion industry employs 600,000 people directly, and is the third largest fashion sector in the EU, after Italy and Germany. Most of those textile workers, whether at Burberry in Castleford or John Smedley in Derbyshire, are women. They are part of a sector that contributes £26bn directly to the UK economy.

While I relish my own role in fighting for the UK to remain in the EU, more powerful still are the women’s voices from all backgrounds, trades and professions. From TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady to easyJet boss Dame Carolyn McCall to Tory peer Karren Brady and those fashion industry leaders, women are already fighting to keep Britain in the EU.

While they may have made up their minds, many other women are yet to decide. Polling shows that up to a quarter of women are undecided about their vote on 23 June, almost twice as many as men. So much is at stake for women in this referendum. And the large number of undecided women voters could decide the outcome of the referendum.

Women from all backgrounds benefit from Britain being in the EU. Take rights for working women for example. The EU ensures equal pay for work of equal value, a fight long forgotten by a younger generation of feminists but memorably documented in the film Made in Dagenham. The EU underpins maternity (and paternity) rights, and the right to return to work after maternity leave. Working women also benefit from the right to sick leave and time off for urgent family reasons. Women are more likely to be in part-time, fixed-term and agency work. Thanks to the EU, we now enjoy rights to equal treatment in line with full-time permanent employees.

But the referendum isn’t just about women’s rights and protections. It’s also about the world that we want to create and our solidarity with women struggling in developing countries. The EU’s drive to tackle violence against women goes beyond our borders with its strategy to eliminate female genital mutilation, working with African countries and the UN. And the EU has worked closely with the government of Bangladesh to change employment laws and improve factory standards and inspections after the Rana Plaza tragedy which killed 1,100 garment workers.

So why are women less likely to have made up their minds? Research on women’s attitudes to the EU referendum by pollster Deborah Mattinson highlights women’s frustration at the nature of the discussion. They see and hear too few women in the campaign. Last week’s events have reduced the biggest political decision of the last 40 years to a Tory party civil war. They find the Boris and Dave show, and the jockeying around the future leadership of the Conservative party, boring and irrelevant. With the Tory party split on this issue, and “banging on” about Europe, the prime minister must take great care that the whole debate does not become a giant turn-off for all voters, not just women. If the vote becomes a referendum about a Westminster elite looking after its own political ambitions versus a grassroots anti-politics uprising, the risk of a vote for Brexit grows higher.

Mattinson rightly argues that the remain camp needs to make our arguments more “human-friendly” – rather than regurgitating statistics that are far removed from day-to-day reality. We need to make it personal. Instead of abstract figures about the impact of the EU on trade and investment, Mattinson rightly urges the remain camp to focus on individual job security.

But I think we need to go further. As well as focusing on the economic case we must also make the case for our shared European values and our shared culture. A culture which embraces and celebrates British fashion, food, football, music, films and university research in a European context. A culture that allows young women and men to live, study and work abroad. And the risks to those vital sectors of our economy and our cultural life if we leave.

The referendum is the biggest decision our country will make in a generation. While the debate can appear far removed, the EU has a positive impact on the lives of British women and their families every day. For that reason, women need to be front and centre of the campaign to remain, rather than just leaving it to the old boys’ club.

‘I cried at night when I realised I had an older dad’: readers on pensioner parents | Guardian readers and Sarah Marsh

Once upon a time, getting married and starting a family in your 20s was the norm, but these days people are choosing to have children much later in life – especially men. (The number of men having children over 50 has risen by almost two-thirds in the past 16 years, according to the Office for National Statistics.)

This means the number of teenagers with fathers collecting their pensions will shoot up. But what’s it like to be a pensioner with young children? Or indeed to grow up as the child of a much older parent? We asked our readers to share their experiences.

Kate: ‘I was always anticipating my dad’s death’

Kate is 28 now and her dad was 58 when she was born

I was the youngest child of his second marriage with my mum, who was much younger. Despite his age and being from a totally different generation, he was very contemporary in his views and very worldly wise. I miss my consultations with him dearly.

My dad never had great health and for as long as I can remember I have always expected him to die. He had breathing problems from working in smoky clubs and developed cancer in later life. I never remember getting annoyed that he was unable to go on rollercoasters or go swimming with me when I was younger but I do remember getting frustrated as he got older (I was in my early 20s) and became forgetful and repeated himself – all of which I now feel immense guilt for.

I called ambulances and attended him in hospital countless times and he fought a tough battle. It was hard to lose a parent when I was young, although I think it’s difficult whatever age you are. He went three years ago next month. I say “went” because I think he’d had enough. He signed his “do not resuscitate” order, I have a lot of respect for that. Because I’d spent my entire life anticipating his death I coped well. I remember getting the call to go to the hospital and seemingly taking it all in my stride. But that isn’t to say I didn’t hurt. I still do.

Vicky: ‘With age comes financial security, a huge benefit’

Vicky is 17 and her father was 49 when she was born. Her mother was 28

Vicky in a forest

‘I suppose the generation gap means our values and beliefs can differ.’

Growing up I thought my dad was pretty young, he has aged really well and until I was about 12 I believed he was in his early 30s. I felt really shocked when I realised he wasn’t as young as the other dads. For a few months directly after I would cry at night because I thought he was going to die soon.

But, despite the fact he’s older, he still acts like a child sometimes, and I don’t think age has made much difference. I suppose the generation gap means our values and beliefs can differ (it took a while explaining the LGBTQ+ acronym) which can cause tension and confusion, but a happy medium can always be reached. It’s pretty fascinating hearing him talk about the first vinyls he bought and the deceased celebrities he saw play live too.

Growing up I’d say we did more things together than the average family. With age comes financial security which is a huge benefit. He retired a year after I was born, and my mum works part-time so I was lucky enough to go skiing several times and to visit places like Egypt and China. How many teenagers can say they’ve done that with both their parents?

Silvette: ‘Sometimes I worry about the years ahead’

Silvette is now 49 and she had her son when she was 44

Silvette pictured in the snow


I don’t think my age does, or will affect my relationship with my child. Being an older mother does have its disadvantages: for example, sometimes I get tired more quickly and I worry about how many years there are ahead. Sometimes I even worry whether I as an elderly person, and he as a teenager, will be able to understand and live well with each other. Nevertheless, I don’t allow such disadvantages to overcome the desire to provide as much love and attention as possible to John.

I am more attached to the positives, which include that it keeps me young. Also, maturity has given me the understanding that my child’s needs must always come first. I no longer think as I did when I was younger and still travelling or exploring the world. I am finding motherhood a lovely and unique experience. It’s not only because I am a mature mother, or that it has happened only in my 40s, but also because I have never had to experience such an amount of love for someone at same time as the fear of losing him.

Anonymous: ‘Caring for my elderly parent is costing me my life’

Aged 30, with a father who had them at 56 (their mother was 32)

Having an older parent does give you a unique perspective on history, and an early lesson in mortality and compassion as you see your aunts and uncles, your dad’s cousins and friends at the end of their lives (I’ve attended far, far more funerals than weddings in my lifetime, and medical frailty doesn’t freak me out at all). I feel horrible about even thinking that.

But now having one elderly parent, and loving them and supporting them, is coming awfully close to costing me my own family and career. I tell myself, you are the “sandwich” generation with your career, spouse, school-aged kids and elderly parents, and you should quit your idiotic complaining: you have it all. That is my perspective. I love my mum and dad, but I do not think that becoming a parent in your 40s or 50s should be undertaken lightly or without significant planning and realistic forethought.

Phil: ‘My son is now 11 and he is my best mate’

Phil is now 62 years old and had his son at 51



My first wife had died after some years and that’s when I met Daniel’s mother, and we got married. We also decided that we would like to have a child, only the one. My wife was 41 when Daniel was born and I was 51.

My son is now 11 and he is my best mate. He was born in Spain but he is very proud that his dad is English and he always describes himself as Spanglish. He speaks English with a Scouse accent, like me, and when we visit England he mixes seamlessly with other English kids.

I was already retired when Daniel was born and as I am an “amo de casa” (house husband) I have lots of time to spend with him and we do lots of things together. I don’t think I would have had the patience when I was younger, although he was my first and only child. The downside, of course, is that he will not have me as long as I have had my parents who are both still alive. So we try to do as much as we can now while I still can. Last summer, for example, I accompanied him on all the water slides at Siam Park in Tenerife and, believe me, I’m still suffering.

I can’t really remember now a time when my son was not in my life and he never ceases to amaze me. He is the love of my life. I never worried about having a child later in life, since now I have more patience and more time to spend with him.

Anonymous: ‘I won’t know my daughter in her middle age’

Aged 63 and had their first child at 52

My daughter, now 10, is very aware that I am as old or older than her friends’ grandparents. She also occasionally gets upset at the thought of my dying before she reaches adulthood. On the other hand, there’s a connection between us that I don’t think would have been possible if I were 20 or 30 years younger. It’s hard to define but it’s an easy, joking friendship that I don’t think I would have been able to nurture had I not had the perspective of my years. The disadvantage is mainly that I probably won’t know my daughter in her middle age. I’d love to see how she turns out but that probably won’t be the case.