Every now and again you hear some commentator announce that what politics needs is more young people. Bollocks. No one who has ever met large numbers of the young members of our parties could possibly come away thinking that many of them are going to be great engines of change. As one pal of mine summed it up to me once: “In other countries, you join a party, and gradually sell out as you get older. In Ireland, you sell out from day one.” Maybe it’s the fact that they have such proximity to senior party members, but I’ve find younger party members to be so shockingly cautious as to be odd. When I was in the Young PDs, I almost had a stroke sitting in the audience of a TV show about young people in politics, listening to a Young PD colleague actually say, and I kid you not: “What young people want today is comprehensive tax reform!”
Ogra and YFG are even more jumpy about saying anything wrong. The Labour Youth people tended to be more left wing than their party, but were so trapped in their comfort zone as to be pre-baked. One referred to Mary Harney’s doctor-visit-only medical card as “yellow pack” and then was stunned when I started using the phrase as a pretty good description of the policy. She could not believe that I could be comfortable using a phrase that in Labour circles was derogatory, as if the Labour “unacceptable” label deemed the phrase banished from use.
What Irish politics needs is not young versions of what’s there. It needs mass membership parties made up of people willing to take the political system off the professional political class and the young clones.