MaltaToday | 18 May 2008 | New Generation Leaders

OPINION | Sunday, 18 May 2008

New Generation Leaders

Keith Azzopardi

The challenges which the world faces are humungous; from rocketing oil prices, to extreme poverty, to the global threat of climate change. The problems are known, but the solutions are far from clear.
In response to these new challenges, young forward looking minds are throwing their hat in the ring, challenging the patronizing image of the mature father-figure politician’ who seem to be stuck with in yesterday’s politics advocating past solutions for tomorrow’s problems.
This phenomenon is spreading quickly and consistently all across the world not least in the USA, Europe and Russia. Many young individuals are climbing quickly to the topmost echelons of democratic parties, defeating the old establishment and put forward new ideas, new concepts and new political language. They are the new generation leaders.
‘Each and every time a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more and its time for our generation to answer that call.’ Those words ushered US Senator Barack Obama’s into one of the most intriguing presidential-bids in US history, earlier this year. Obama is effectively the youngest contender for the world’s most powerful seat since John F Kennedy took over the oval office at the age of 43.
Closer to home, young men and women - often seen as “inexperienced and pretentious” - are taking the driving seats in major European parties, bringing a new age into politics.
In Britain, the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, won the leadership contest at age 38, beating elder rivals for the throne of Tory leader. Cameron is leading his party to new heights as his party never enjoyed the current wave of popularity since before the times of Tony Blair (he himself a then young ‘pretentious’ politician taking over the Labour leadership). The UK Labour Party is now panic-stricken as Gordon Brown’s experience and political ripeness is not presenting a real challenge to the baby-faced Cameron. This is leading the “second generation” of New Labour to make headways within party ranks. Talk of toppling Gordon Brown is doing the rounds in the British media as David Miliband, 42, his brother Ed, 38 and Ed Balls, 40 - already leading Cabinet figures in Brown’s beleaguered government - are being touted as more convincing challengers to Cameron’s quest to take over 10 Downing Street in Britain’s next elections.
Further North, in Sweden, young economist and politician Fredrik Reinfeldt, at 41, became Prime Minister in 2006 beating the Social Democratic Party, who had held power in all but nine years since 1932. Reinfeldt took charge of the Moderate Party in 2003 (when he was just 38 years old) redefining it and broadening its base, taking the party from the right-wing to a more popular centre-right position. Conceding defeat at polls, the outgoing Swedish Social Democratic elder statesman Goran Persson stood down from the party leadership saying: “It is time to give way for the new generation.”
In Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is leading the Social Democrats after a five year spell in the European Parliament as MEP, elected at the tender age of 32
Russia’s fate is also left in the hands of a youthful head of state. Dmitry Medvedev, just 42-years old, became the President of one of the world’s biggest power. Medvedev has a monstrous task ahead of him, yet the relatively inexperienced man seems unperturbed in the face of his country’s and world’s turmoil.
Other young politicians are reaching meteoric heights in Europe. France’s President Sarkozy has appointed youthful politicians in his cabinet, including rising star Rachida Dati, 42, as Justice Minister. In the German SPD, 35-year old Hubertus Heil is making inroads as party general secretary, re-positioning the party in a way which would give a strong challenge to Germany’s own iron lady Angela Merkel. Even in Spain, at the age of 31, young Socialist from Cádiz Bibiana Aído Almagro, finds herself the youngest minister ever in the Spanish government, in charge of the new Ministry for Equality.
Now is there anyone who believes that this new wave of politicians taken over the global political scene by coincidence? I pretty much doubt it.
The message, to me, is very clear. The world is changing and so are the people. Their aspirations, needs and wants are changing too. Leaders, it follows, need to change too.
In Malta, we should not be afraid to join this refreshing momentum of change.
We need a breath of fresh air to revive the waning enthusiasm of disillusioned young and middle-aged voters who are fed up of patronizing politicians. In Malta too, is time to change.
In this context, Labour can kick-start Malta’s new generation of progressive politicians if it chooses wisely.
Joseph Muscat, at 35, had the nerve to move out of his relatively cushy’ MEP seat and field his name for Labour’s top post. Muscat fits in perfectly within the mould of this new age politicians. He is not only the ideal candidate to stir Labour into a modern “winning generation”, but also a refreshing hope for Malta’s chances of reaching new heights in dynamic world of today.
There is no single doubt in my mind that Labour should not miss this opportunity. It will be at par with other modern European Parties, and indeed a gear or two ahead of the Nationalist Party. It only needs the courage to embrace this change.

Keith Azzopardi
Political Advisor
Socialist Group in the
European Parliament

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