Even when I was an active Young Progressive Democrat, I never believed in the idea that just because someone was young, they were automatically “a breath of fresh air.” Indeed, some of the most reactionary party bootlickers tend to be members of youth parties, eagerly allying themselves to the party bosses and being their useful little minions in the hope of future reward. That’s not to say I didn’t play ball with headquarters. Of course I did, because you have to if you want to get something done. But you have to be in politics for more than just the greasy pole.
I’m writing on the subject because a number of members of Fianna Fail have all raised, in different ways, a similar point with me about their party. Each one of them regarded the younger members of the party, from Senator Averil Power to Councillors like Malcolm Byrne, James Lawless, Kate Feeney and Paul McAuliffe, as being vital to the party’s recovery, not just because they could win seats but because each was actually interested in ideas. I’ve met them all, and know some better than others, but I’d agree with the assessment. That’s not to say I agree with them all, by the way. But each one had a rational and thoughtful approach to ideas which went far beyond the super county councillors that seem to populate their parliamentary party.
And, by the way, it’s not something limited to Fianna Fail either. If you take Rebecca Moynihan in Labour, or Barry Saul in Fine Gael, or Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O’Laoghaire, you also get a generation of young elected representatives who have an interest in the big picture. As an aside, and I don’t want to overhype it, but exposure through their respective European party memberships to sister parties in the EPP, SD, ALDE and GUE does have an effect.
Of course, that’s not to say that guarantees change. The Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties are full of young deputies who talked radical when running and then knuckled under, supporting a government that was so conservative on political reform that it actively sabotaged its own stated policies.
The hope is that as the old guard step down, the young turks might hold to their promise. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time people reached the top and suddenly decide that the system is grand. But there’s a chance.