In future election campaigns, we will look back on yesterday’s $4 billion bribe to pensioners and wonder at how small it was.

John Howard presumably wasn’t too focused on the growing power of the grey vote or intergenerational equity when he announced yet another handout of taxpayers’ money to an interest group. He called it “the social dividend of prosperity.” In fact, it was all about securing the Coalition base vote, with what amounted to a personal bribe to each voter.

Howard skews old, as the coke-snorters in the advertising industry would say. Seniors are his core constituency. After all, he’s one of them. But like everyone else, they’ve had their heads turned by that nice young Mr Rudd, and given they normally tend to strongly favour the Coalition, that means disaster for the Liberals. Thus a bribe of several hundred dollars to each of them.

The Government successfully tried the same trick at the start of 2001, when it faced almost equally dire polls and realised it had to bring oldies disaffected by the GST back into its camp. It’s now trying to do in four weeks what took it several months back then.

For the Liberals’ sake, let’s hope senior voters aren’t quite as cynical as the rest of us about Government largesse on the eve of an election.

In the future, however, $4b will look decidedly cheap. ‘Grey power’ is one of those forces that has been ’emerging’ for decades, but the demographic inevitability of a massive increase in older voters means that more and more funding will be thrown at them by politicians. In particular, baby boomers – en masse the most selfish generation ever to grace the planet – will arrive in the ranks of retirees and start issuing demands for more money and better services.

While older voters tend to conservatism more than the rest of us, no politician will take them for granted – especially not once they’ve been lobbied by the growing number of retiree and senior lobby groups.

Naturally, some younger folk might grumble about the unfairness of massive transfers from the productive section of the community to the unproductive. Others might quibble about why people who are unlikely to be part of Australia’s future have such a significant role in determining it.

They’ll be howled down, possibly as ‘unAustralian.’ And it won’t matter, anyway. The oldies will have the numbers on their side. Big numbers.