A New Generation Of Politics

1 01 2008

Published in the Journal of the New Generation Society, January 2008.

“Let the word go forth from this time and place… that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”

President John F. Kennedy

Inaugural Address

Washington DC, 20th January 1961

 

 

“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation – let your greatness blossom.”

Nelson Mandela

‘Make Poverty History’ Rally

Trafalgar Square, 3rd February 2005

 

 

These two quotes, which so eloquently capture the spirit of the New Generation Society, are taken from speeches made by two very different men, in very different times to very different audiences. And yet the speeches are alike in that they both make clear the importance of recognising the challenges, opportunities and values of the time in which we live.

 

Let me explain why I believe these two speeches are of such importance to our generation of young people in 2007. First, that of Kennedy, a man who seemed to epitomise the hopes and aspirations of a post-war generation not only in his own country, but across the world. In his inaugural address, made against the background of a genuine fear that the United States might be drawn into a nuclear war by communist aggression, Kennedy laid out his vision of how he believed his country needed to deal with this threat. He observed how the advent of nuclear weapons had changed the world profoundly, and that international politics needed to accommodate that change. The threat of nuclear war may seem distant and remote today, but elsewhere in this Journal the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, explains how the distribution of world power has changed again, and that we need to create a new form of diplomacy in response.

 

Later in the speech Kennedy listed the ‘common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.’ The magnitude of these challenges has not diminished in the forty six years since the speech was made, but just as that speech called for a renewed effort in the battle against them our generation is attempting its own assault, in new directions and armed with new weapons – The development of countries such as India and China into world economic powerhouses is bringing education, health and opportunity to previously unfathomable numbers. The internet is allowing political campaigns such as Make Poverty History to become more effective. We have a responsibility therefore, and an opportunity, to ensure that it is our generation that is remembered in history for finally eliminating disease, eradicating poverty, guarding against tyranny and securing peace. These are goals which every generation hopes to achieve, but with the resources at our disposal today they are neither impossible nor unreasonable.

 

Kennedy’s mission may have been left tragically unfinished, but his vision can be an example to our generation of how we can maintain our traditional values while we adapt to an ever-changing world. The image of a torch being passed down to successive generations is a vivid reminder of the responsibility we inherit from history, but also of the need for every generation to make their own contribution to it.

 

Nelson Mandela is regarded as one of the great men in modern history, and personally represents his own generation’s great struggle, that for freedom against apartheid. When he came to London to address the Make Poverty History rally in Trafalgar Square he was not only supporting that particular campaign. He was also laying down a direct challenge to our generation, that we should fulfil our potential. Rightly, I believe, he sees that young people today have the power to achieve enormous things. In his speech, he explained that ‘the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation.’

 

Perhaps even more importantly our generation, rather than being the politically apathetic group which we are so often accused of being, is becoming more politically informed than any other generation in history. The internet provides access to political dialogue for a much wider range of people, and in a more involving way, than has previously been possible. While our confidence in the power of the ballot box is somewhat shaken, our keenness to push forward change and ‘do good’ is demonstrated by the support given to campaigns like Make Poverty History and the seemingly endless multitude of Facebook groups devoted to political discussion. This engagement, outside party lines and without the restrictions of conventional politics, gives us a wealth of new tools with which to tackle the challenges, new and old, facing our generation.

 

If we are to take Kennedy’s example, and live up to Mandela’s hopes, then we must do two things. First, we must adapt our political system for the twenty-first century. This means radically reassessing the way we carry out public debate, looking again at the role of political parties, and reasserting the values upon which our government is based. Second, we must develop a raft of new thinking upon which we can build answers to the challenges thrown our way. Sometimes these challenges are completely new, but sometimes we need to reassess the way we approach old challenges. Both of these tasks require open minds and imagination. Hopefully you will be able to see this process happening on the pages of this journal, where we aim to bring together the expertise and insight of established public figures with the creativity and dynamism of a New Generation.

 

From the grand campaigns for the elimination of world poverty to the humble work of supporting our increasingly elderly population the challenges before us are neither straightforward, nor are they avoidable. They are, however, our challenges and we must take responsibility for them as a generation. We will, after all, be the generation that must live with the success or failure of tackling them. It is clearly important that we take seriously the burden of responsibility that has fallen to us, but equally there is no need to become pessimistic about our future. Alongside the challenges lying before us, there lie a great number of opportunities, and I have no doubt that we can achieve great things during our time at the helm. It is an exciting time to be part of the New Generation.

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