Many 60 and 70 year olds are antipathetic towards social networking: we feel that it can easily become a substitute for face-to-face social interaction. I well remember my wife’s reaction when a group of teenagers arrived for a birthday celebration at a Westminster pizza restaurant where we were eating. They sat on opposite seats of a long table and, rather than speak to each other about their experiences, brought out their smartphones and entered their digital world.
Now I recognise that this opinion is simply one of generational prejudice. The teenagers had every right to behave in this way if they wished – but I still feel they are missing out on something.
I have found myself displaying my generational prejudice in the local Labour Party. A number of members have contacted the party through our Facebook site asking if we are committing to support Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership tussle. These are members, affiliates or registered supporters (see what a mess we are in) who have had no previous contact with the party as far as we can recall. Some of us have pointed to their lack of activity. Foolishly I myself made a Facebook post to this effect and received the response that, just because people do nothing in campaigns, they have every right to their opinion. Although I find this a depressing response to receive from a much younger person I cannot deny the legitimacy of this point of view.
It does however rankle with the old guard who, over many years, have struggled to ensure that that nomination papers were signed and submitted and elections fought. In North Norfolk we have over 600 people who are registered as Labour supporters in one form or another and are able to cast their vote in the Labour Party Leadership Election. However it was the same small handful of long-standing members who were out on the streets in the Referendum campaign, showing a commitment in what was rightly described as the most important ballot in a generation. All credit therefore to my resilient colleagues for their stubborn determination.
Since the majority of our new members have been wholly inactive and the Labour Party must face the facts. If our constituency is anything to go by, we have not recruited whole swathes of young people who are about to regenerate left of centre politics. If that had been the case they would have been visible in the Remain campaign, where it is the under 35s who have produced the highest proportion in favour. Instead the Party has, as a result of a whole range of factors, acquired large numbers of Clicktivists: people who are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and will take advantage of social media to maintain his position. They will click the mouse on their computer but do nothing beyond that. This will create a social protest movement that does little beyond waving the odd banner when what is needed is a commitment to change through winning elections.