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May 21, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Political Porn With Hamish

Cult-Like Youth Wings In Vogue

If you’re the observant type, you would have probably noticed most of our Parliamentary parties have a “youth wing” with some sort of presence on campus.

Their calling card is the single coloured t-shirt which features a party motto or logo brandished across the chest. Ranging from the “I’M A KEY PERSON” Young Nats to Young Labour’s “The Goff Father”, it’s surprising that these fine examples of New Zealand fashion didn’t make it to the “disaster” that was Wellington Fashion week (quote marks mean that someone else said it, not me).

Lately, they’ve been generating themselves a bit of publicity through a joint effort to “Keep It 18”; ACT on Campus even got their own story on 3News after they announced they would not campaign for any candidate who won’t “Keep It 18”. Greens, ACT, Labour and National are all united over a joint effort to protect your right to purchase alcohol from an off- licence.

But who are these people who join the Youth Wings, and what do they even achieve? I did some Facebook stalking and came across some photos; In one are the Young Nats and, in the other, Young Labour. Both appear to be failed X-Factor contestants, due to an inadequate number of members. The Young Nats were one short of being a boy band, whilst Young Labour needed another to be New Zealand’s answer to SClub-7.

Despite all their hard work on the campaign, getting out and sign waving, door knocking, pamphlet dropping and spending long hours doing the tasks no one else would do, they appear to get nothing in terms of substantial policy in return–particularly those who are part of the Young Nats and ACT on Campus.

Every time John Banks was filmed campaigning in Epsom, he was accompanied by an ACT on Campus phalanx of “killer bees”. Yet despite the hard work they put in for him during the campaign, there’s the potential he will take away their right to buy a drink.

Likewise, it appears that the Young Nats will have their hard work unrewarded. They travelled around the North Island on a bus for a week, which one member described to me as being “disgusting” and “filthy” after only a few days. They would get out at every stop and clap John Key getting on and off the bus (see this video for example http://bit.ly/Kd4YPV–it makes Key look good for the cameras).

I recall talking to one Young Nat in early December after the election. He informed be that Key was grateful fortheir work and that they would have some “klout” in pushing through policy they wanted. He went on to specifically cite gay marriage as a policy they would push for, due to its support from other youth wings.

Yet despite this apparent “klout”, we’re having a vote on raising the drinking age and there is “no clamour” for gay marriage in New Zealand. As one member of Young Labour told me, the Government is increasingly passing, or atleast proposing, policy which makes New Zealand a less attractive place for young people to stay and work in.

Personally, I struggle to see what youth wings achieve. Although, to be fair, a new $62 million mental health policy, mainly aimed at 12–17 year olds, was developed following calls by the Young Nats.

Beyond that though, it seems to be that the youth wings are simply glorified political party fan clubs populated by people who want to be politicians. People who want to actually achieve things operate outside the youth wing structure.

James Sleep is New Zealand’s most successful young political activist, regularly in the media. Yet he’s not part of Young Labour.

Probably because he wants to do more than just be a fan-boy.

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  1. Embarrassed says:

    I really am suprised Salient still publishes this column. This article is seriously pathetic and it isn’t even much of a slide from previous “attempts”.

  2. Joshua says:

    I think what this column reflects is perceptions and presents a pretty strong challenge for the youth wings if they want to attract a diverse range of activists.

    Personally I think youth wings play an important role. However, I don’t think they are served too well by certain people who send more of a message about themselves than what they are fighting for.

    I’ve gone to some Young Nat meetings and been astounded at how out of depth they are with real New Zealand. Real young people don’t wear suits to meetings, let alone to meet the PM. I saw a young Nat speaking on behalf of Keep It 18 recently. I just wanted to screen at the TV “Keep it fucking real”, instead of the bullshit PR spin and polished presentation that made him seem pretentious.

    I think young labour are an interesting bunch, again not in touch with everyday young people or ‘workers’, seeing they are in the Labour Party. Although certainly not as out of touch as the young nats. A friend of mine goes to some young labour meetings and went to their conference. They said there was a young guy running to be the vice president of young labour (or maybe it was the labour party) and came across as position hungry, in a rush and a tad naiive. But because he put on a well practiced politician speech he won over an experienced, competent woman from the ethnic community who maybe represents one streak of new age faces of the party ( who apparently young labour lacks). My mate said she left the conference thinking this dude summed up the stereotype of these sectors being fan clubs and power hungry, which doesn’t help the sectors.

  3. Hi Joshua

    Thanks for the comments. Some interesting points you’ve raised. There has been quite a bit of feedback on this particular column, more so than any of my other ones this year. I think there is more to be said on what youth wings achieve and who they serve to exist. Are they merely internships for politicians, do they encourage young people to engage with democracy, are they fan clubs?

    There is also a school of thought I’ve come across that young persons aren’t engaging with the political process because they don’t like the party hierarchy systems. Instead, people will rather focus on some issues, such as climate change and asset sales, and hope to affect decisions that way, rather that trying to work within the current party systems.

    What I’m struggling to understand is why other youth wings aren’t taking the stand that ACT on Campus has. I do believe there are other factors at play (Banks the conservative), but ACT on Campus won’t support any candidate who won’t vote to Keep It 18. None of the other parties seemed prepared to stand for it – perhaps because they don’t want to damage their political internships?

    These things don’t happen in a vacuum, and every “faction” (use that term loosely) of a party will have to take policy wins with their loses, but this is a particular issue of concern to all young people. It is an issue to make a principled stand on.

  4. Leisure says:

    I congratulate Hamish for the step up in sass tbh it was needed. Usually the column is forum for Hamish to tell everyone how great he is, but this week it was a glorified bitch-fest. Keep up the good work

    xoxo
    gg

  5. Nicky says:

    After a bit of research it’s obvious that Sleep’s carved out a unique space that many young party activists don’t get to occupy. I do think they do good work and are hard working. so you need to take that into consideration about Sleep. A right wing equivalent of where Sleep sits on the left would be the youth spokesperson for Business New Zealand, for which a position doesn’t exist. I think it was this guy i saw on tvnz’s Backbenches show on election night. Was quite good – because he didn’t carry a youth political sector label it came across much, much better. The youth wings can do the same if the media gave them more time. I think many of them have some excellent things to say.

  6. Jim says:

    I don’t think there is any real sass in this. It just repeats tired assumptions, without originality or insight.

    If you considered yourself a journalist, you might do some research that goes beyond a superficial Facebook stalk or some personal conversations you have had?

    From that basis it is not surprising that you would find it difficult to understand what youth wings achieve. How could you?

    I mean it’s just stupid really. Annoying also, but mainly just stupid.

  7. Malcolm says:

    @ Joshua.

    Rory McCourt is who your friend is talking about. He sums up the kind of wannabe MP that people percieve youth wings to be full of. He’s young, naiive, and in such a rush to get ‘MP’ after his name. It’s so obvious to everyone that it will probably hold him back.

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