Talk About their Generation

A zealous political campaigner once told me that the greatest danger facing her party was death.

In short, members were dying out at a faster rate than new ones were joining.
Any institution, whether a political party, a charity or a church, can invest in grand buildings in its heyday but unless it wins a new wave of members it can be dead in a generation.

Yes, parties have to make young members welcome if they are to stick around and there has to be some an effort to speak their language.

But a party wanting to win people for whom the ability to vote is something new and exciting will not gain new foot-soldiers by hiring a consultant to spray the organisation in a haze of synthetic hype.

Rather, young people will go where there is a sense of promise and possibility.

Parties depend on such members to trudge pavements on cold nights and risk the wrath of dogs by putting flyers through letterboxes. But a party that sees young members primarily as cheap labour – or, worse, as naive utopians in need of being brought down to earth – will miss an important opportunity to adapt to survive and thrive in a fast-changing culture.

New – not just young ones – members can identify opportunities that professional strategists may not. Veteran activists should sit down with fresh arrivals and listen to their ambitions and, after some basic due diligence, then work out how to make these a reality.

Wales’ four main parties are all adjusting to the challenges and opportunities presented by devolution. But for members under the age of 20, they have come of age in the past decade and a half and a Cardiff skyline without a Senedd would look odd.

Some young activists will want to win election to the Assembly while others will set their hearts on Westminster. They may well have a clearer idea than older peers of precisely why they want to enter a particular institution, of how they think they can get there, and what they want to achieve.

These men and women have witnessed coalitions at both a UK and Welsh level and are not scared of the concept of hammering out a deal and working with rivals. Far from being anathema, this is what normal politics looks like to those who have grown up in an age of Labour-Plaid and Tory-Liberal Democrat governments.

It should be a New Year Resolution for any party that wants to wield power rather than retreat to the cosy corners of protest to become places where ambition for Wales and the UK is embraced.

A Thursday Column.

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