There has been a bit of debate on Twitter this morning between @eurosocialiste and @boriswandoren about the ongoing behaviour of politicians in the European Parliament, specifically with regard to the behaviour of the socialists who have caved in and agreed with the EPP to carve up the positions in the EP between them (see Jean Quatremer in French), an agreement that has lead to a load of measly words from Graham Watson who is withdrawing from the running to become President of the EP. This decision of the socialists is especially annoying – I would have rather seen the development of a genuine opposition in the EP, rather than some messy compromise.
But is all of this, as the Twitter debate suggests, something to do with generations of politicians?
Frankly, I think not. Blogs, Twitter and e-Communications more generally have given people like Eurosocialiste, Boris Wandoren, Kosmopolit, Julien Frisch and I the kind of public voice we would never otherwise have had. We’re young(-ish) individuals, answerable almost uniquely to ourselves, people with strong views. In times past we would have been the annoying, nagging people at party political meetings, trying to hold everyone else to account. The internet means we have a wider audience to rant air our concerns. We’re fine to argue back and forth on Twitter, because we’re the sort of people who would be arguing about how to make the world a better place over a coffee or a beer anyway; doing it online is hence really natural.
If you’re a party politician your motivations are inevitably different. The nature of party politics across all the mainstream parties and in all EU Member States means you have to play the long game, keep your views to yourself, and manage to make sure you do not offend too many people on your route to the top. You want to one day become Martin Schulz, or one of his ilk, and even if – as a younger person – you did have a burning ideology, you’re going to have to mask it in order to manage to get anywhere. Frankly it is hard to run a political party if there are too many people in it who are too intelligent, determined or opinionated, so you can get somewhere precisely because you are not any good, not a threat.
So the pickle in which party politics finds itself, especially on the left, is not in my mind a question of generations. It’s much more important and central to that. How can political parties accept risk takers, leaders, people with drive, people with ideology, and bind them into a party structure rather than making them annoyed and demoralised? For me that’s the central question, not some vague notion of generational change.