There are few things I feel more strongly about than young people in politics, and seeing Master Rory Weal on the stage at Labour Party conference this week confirmed to me something I’ve always held to be self-evident: they really shouldn’t be.
God knows, the Labour Party is obsessed with all things youthful, whether it’s our leaders or the interminably cyclical debates about votes at sixteen. And I didn’t think young Rory did a bad job at all in the Conference Hall, and the kid certainly didn’t deserve the monstering he received as a result from the sort of people who pompously order lefties to “hang their heads in shame” for the tiniest personal slight. Still, if you’re in politics and you howl, “The hypocrisy! It burns!” every time something like this happens you’d do nothing else ... anyway, back to the plot.
Rory Weal is a sixteen-year-old boy who gave an impassioned speech to conference about how his single parent family would have been sunk without the safety net of the welfare state. It subsequently emerged that he’d hardly been a horny-handed son of toil prior to the state giving his family this helping hand and, in fact, he’d both been at a school whose annual fees made my eyes bleed to read them and had lived in a house that closely resembled Downton Abbey.
I wear my “I went to a comprehensive school” chip on my shoulder with a great deal of pride, but even I couldn’t bring myself to get worked up about this. He may have airbrushed the details of his past life slightly, but basically his story was the same as advertised. Yes, it raised a few interesting questions about means testing, which the Daily Mail carefully avoided in order to publicly smear a child as a lying dissembler. Good show, douchebags.
No, my beef isn’t against the Labour Party’s latest child prodigy, it’s against the notion that we should be encouraging people of Rory’s age to get engaged with the political process at all. It’s a lament often heard at local Labour meetings, “Why aren’t more young people involved in politics?” To which the answer is, “Because this meeting was so boring I had to remove my eyeballs with a rusty melon-baller just to take my mind off the tedium, the councillors’ report went on for so long that the pubs have now closed, and the only reason I’m here is out of a grim sense of duty generally lacking in someone below twenty with a life to lead.”
Rory’s contemporaries aren’t getting involved in politics because they are doing far more sensible things with their youth, like trying to break into their parents’ booze cabinet, chatting up girls, and dreaming of the day when they will finally lie bare-naked next to a lady. Are we all forgetting the biggest argument against young people in politics? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the student politician. Oh, we’ve all met them. The relentless schmoozing, the backstabbing, the tendency to only speak to those they consider important, the pointless posts they aspire to. Actually encouraging young people to actually be like this should be considered an act of cruelty, like bear baiting or dressing up dogs in cowboy costumes.
The voting trends speak for themselves as to the futility of seeking out the approval of da yoof. As long ago as 1972 in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Hunter S Thompson identified the stupidity of chasing the youth vote as it never materialised on polling day. In contemporary Britain the lowest turnout is in the 18-24 demographic, probably because that group are too busy clubbing or having sex, or whatever young people do these days. And good for them. Give them a few years, a bit of life, a bit of experience and then they can bring something to the debate, when they’re ready and they want to.
It’s all symptomatic of Labour’s fetishisation of youth, both in terms of the composition of the parliamentary party and its insistence that being young and hip with the kids is the Holy Grail that brings electoral success. The result is the rather queer feeling at times that there are no grown-ups in charge. That, and the alarming expansion of the Student Politician caste within the PLP - and those who aspire to it – most of whom have wanted to be an MP since they were 12, have never done anything that could potentially jeopardise that aspiration, and spend their time brown-nosing the shadow cabinet and generally being tedious on Twitter.
For the sake of a political class that don’t resemble a bunch of nerds with no life, I say: leave those kids alone.