Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Why the young politicos creep me out

Yesterday, at the Labour Party conference, Rory Weal gave a speech which "wowed" delegates and "stole the show." This had nothing to do with the actual words he said, but the fact that he is only 16 years old. This was Labour's William Hague moment - but rather than be impressed with the fact that he stood up and spoke in such a high-profile setting, all I can feel is a little creeped out.

Already, Weal has sparked a media frenzy. The most absurd end of it came from the Daily Mail, with Melanie Philips declaring (without a hint of irony) that he was the "new star" of Labour's "mantra of hate" and a team of three reporters taking pains to point out that he has a rather privileged upbringing. The Guardian chose to focus on whether or not he would end up regretting his speech and the Mirror wondered about his "bright political future." Others such as the Telegraph chose to focus on the details of his speech and ask whether or not he was right.

For me, however, there's an altogether different concern. As an anarchist, I obviously have very little interest in party politics. If there is a problem besetting the working class, the best way to address it is through direct action rather than appealing to leaders to save us. My attitude to Labour, in particular, is summed up by Cautiously Pessimistic: "fuck the Labour Party conference, fuck all those socialists who really should know better but continue to bang on about Labour as if that useless shower of bastards have any relevance to the class struggle, and doublefuck that massive hypocrite Dave Prentice for sabotaging the June 30th strikes and then having the cheek to lecture others about the importance of supporting strikes."

So why give a damn that some 16 year old posh boy has been drawn into this? Because of the entirely wrong sentiment that it evokes - partly summed up in the Telegraph by Christopher Howse compairing it to "fairground freakery." It's hard to top his metaphor that Weal (as all prodigies) "is in the position of the dog walking on its hind legs." We aren't "particularly interested in what the dog is doing, except that it’s unusual for a dog," and "the dog on its hind legs is always ready to fall."

That's not the whole picture, though. As part of the spectacle, people will always comment that it's "good to see young people interested in politics." Or some such similar sentiment. Features on "young, ambitious and idealistic" would-be politicians regularly make good copy ahead of party conferences and we're told how they "explode the idea that teenagers are selfish and self-absorbed." They are "passionate about social justice and have more than a grasp of economics" and won't "head off to a music festival, or even a riot," and the implicit message is that despite - or even perhaps because - of the freak show element, there's something to be admired about young people joining political parties.

This only has the effect of creeping me out even more, however. It's just not right, and as I said when talking about this with my other half earlier today, my only response to a child of mine announcing that they'd signed up to a political party would be a profound sense of disappointment.

This isn't to say that I'm against young people giving a damn about what goes on in the world around them. If anything, I believe more young people should. As a young members' rep in PCS, one of my roles is to get under-27s more interested and active in trade union activity. Having taken part in actions with UK Uncut, I know more than a few young people who have a level of passion for their cause that most adults would struggle to mirror - indeed it is remarkable that the driving force behind the group in Liverpool was a 15 year-old schoolgirl. Likewise, Liverpool has a quite young local of the Solidarity Federation and our youngest member is 17 years old.

All of these things are incredibly positive. Far away from the world of party conferences, these young people genuinely do have a sense of social justice - or, better, a class consciousness - that drives them to act. Not by wearing a suit or giving a speech, but by taking part in the active resistance of ordinary people who want to defend the gains won for the working class over the past century and a half and push forward to fight for a better world. They're engaging in one of the oldest passtimes of the teenager, rebellion, but in a positive and collective way rather than an individual, nihilistic one.

By contrast, the Rory Weal's of this world are dressing and acting like politicians because they want to be one themselves. Rather than being part of the fightback against the political class, they want to become part of it. Perhaps they believe they can change the world for the better this way, but if so it just shows the limit of their imaginations and how the illusions of reformism continue to ensnare people.

That's why, whilst the media buzzes around Weal and over analyses or tries to demonise him, my only reaction is to cringe. It might only be a passing phase, and you imagine that even signing up for a Trotskyist party would be a step up. But it could well be the beginning of a promising political career, and we've just witnessed the emergence of one of the bastards whom our children will be picketing, marching, protesting and rioting against in the class war of the next generation.