"Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes,” was Barack Obama’s rallying cry during his 2011 re-election campaign.

Older folk on this side of the Atlantic are indeed preparing to change out of their slippers, albeit for a very different cause. Thousands of pensioners plan to march this week on BBC sites across the UK in protest at the corporation’s announcement that from 2020 it will stop giving free TV licences to everyone aged over 75, at a cost of £750m a year, moving instead to a means-tested system where only those claiming pension credit will be exempt from paying the £154.50 annual fee.

Read more: Pensioners to march in fury over BBC licence fee grab

The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) which is organising the protest, off the back of an Age UK petition that has already garnered more than half a million signatures, has called the BBC’s move “callous and cruel”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the fact that television is a lifeline for many elderly folk is not in question. But is it really “cruel” to ask a section of the population that has seen its disposable income increase by 60 per cent in the last 12 years (compared to 36 per cent for non-retirees) to contribute the same 43p a day for the BBC as the rest of us? Considering poorer over-75s will still, quite rightly, get a free licence, I think not. It’s also deeply condescending to suggest, as some have, that less wealthy older people will find it difficult or demeaning to apply, especially since a free TV licence box could surely be added to the current pension credit application with a minimum of fuss.

The NPC claims the issue is “uniting generations” when the reality, of course, is that universal benefits for pensioners like this one and the winter fuel allowance – which costs around £3bn a year –increasingly divides society by age, with the gap between older, private-pensioned, property-rich haves and younger, debt-ridden have-nots growing by the day.

What really dispirits me about the outcry over this move, however, is the way in which large sections of society have fallen hook, line and sinker for the Tory ploy to blame the BBC. The corporation was, after all, left in a no-win situation when it was landed with free licences as part of its settlement in 2015. If it continues to fund them for all over 75s, the very services viewers and listeners say they value, that mark the corporation out from lesser commercial broadcasters – the peerless radio output, BBC2 and BBC4 – would have to go.

Read more: Pensioners to march in fury over BBC licence fee grab

And make no mistake, this isn’t just an opportunistic shifting of responsibility for an unpopular policy from Government to BBC, though it seems ridiculous that anyone would believe a broadcaster would or should be in charge of welfare policy. Rather, it is a calculated move as part of a much bigger, more ideological and potentially damaging attack on our public institutions.

How George Osborne, the former Tory chancellor who made the decision to cut funding for free TV licences, must have laughed over the last week as he put out article after article about the brouhaha in the newspaper he now edits, the London Evening Standard.

The joke, of course, is on us. Mr Osborne and his chum David Cameron were two of the most blatantly mendacious politicians of the modern era. It is they who sowed the seeds of the dangerous political situation we currently find ourselves in, who set the standard for the motley crew of charlatans and ne’er-do-wells lining up to lead the country further into oblivion.

Let’s do a quick recap. Despite casting themselves in 2010 as modern, centrist one-nation Conservatives, the Cameron administration’s post-crash austerity narrative disguised a strategy specifically designed to run-down, undermine and under-fund our public institutions and services. Indeed, this agenda, taken alongside the EU referendum, suggest Cameron and Osborne were doing the work of the Tory hard right from the off. We should have remembered from the 1980s that the Tories are past masters when it comes to divide and rule. And yet here we are in 2019, dividing ourselves into “them” and “us” politically, constitutionally, culturally, economically, on the precipice of a disastrous no-deal Brexit under an odiously populist leader. The services and institutions that used to anchor us on common ground, the post-war settlement that encompassed social housing, the NHS, the BBC, have or are in the process of being deliberately, ideologically undermined.

And by attacking the BBC over free licences, we are doing the work of these ideologues.

Though I do not agree with the view that all over-75s should get a free TV licence, I respect the NPC’s demand to retain the benefit. The plan to march on the BBC, however, is not only wrong-headed but plays straight into the hands of those who would like to see our remaining public services either privatised or obliterated.

More likely to vote than other groups and with higher incomes, older people now have more clout than ever before; they should use it by putting on their marching shoes and heading to Conservative HQ.