Young, gifted and silent

There's plenty of youthful talent in the cabinet, but none has yet shown any appetite for purging th

It is now a matter of days until John Prescott takes over the reins of power while the Prime Minister takes his holiday. This annual ritual has often enlivened the silly season, when real news is short, but this year it has been given an extra end-of-the-pier quality by the Deputy Prime Minister's growing list of travails. Prescott has always been an essentially comic character, retained as much to remind the public of the more absurd aspects of old Labour as for his genuine political skills. But this year, even with the threat of more tabloid revelations about his personal life hanging over him, his saucy seaside postcard quality has been overshadowed by real concerns about his relationship with the American owner of the Dome, Philip Anschutz.

It is difficult not to feel pity for a man who accepted a gift of a personally designed cowboy outfit. But this does not detract from the fact that yet another new Labour figure has been shown to be too easily wooed by big money. Anschutz is no Berlusconi, but his views on homosexuality are just as offensive as the Italian media mogul's attitude to, say, the trade unions. It is their curse that senior Labour politicians fail to recognise how unseemly it is to mix with such illiberal, anti-egalitarian characters.

There has long been an atmosphere of bloated decadence hanging over this Labour government and Prescott is now its most potent symbol.

The real mystery here, however, is not how Prescott dares hang on to high office so long, nor even why the Prime Minister has put up with him, but why younger Labour ministers do not make a stand against the older generation of tarnished politicians before they drag everyone down with them. New Labour is no longer youthful, but its one hope for renewal is to look to the next generation for a change of direction.

In 1995, when he was a mere 42 years old, it was credible for Tony Blair to claim that he wanted to create a "young country of my generation's dreams", but now he is 53 this is no longer the case. His government is growing old: of the holders of the major offices of state, Blair is the youngest. Gordon Brown is two years older, John Reid turns 60 next year, and Margaret Beckett was born during the Second World War.

There is plenty of young talent in the cabinet: David Miliband, Ruth Kelly and Douglas Alexander are all in their late thirties or early forties and are highly capable individuals. In the next rank of ministers, James Purnell, Liam Byrne and Yvette Cooper are just as good. They are all around the same age as Blair was when he took an ageing party by the scruff of the neck, but none has yet shown any appetite for purging the old guard.

There has been much speculation that Miliband, the Environment Secretary, will be moved into Prescott's job, but this would not be the answer. For all his precocious intellect and political experience, Miliband has always been seen as the creature of the Prime Minister and such an appointment would simply reinforce the old order.

What is needed now is someone courageous enough to move against the old warhorses of new Labour and begin to define a progressive politics to challenge David Cameron in representing a "young country". This doesn't necessarily mean a full-scale inter-generational conflict: a willingness to tell their elders that they are not necessarily their betters would be a good start.

Speaking for Islam

Over the past three months I have been working on a documentary for Channel 4 about the government's relationship with representatives of radical Islam. Using a series of leaked Foreign Office documents, many of which were first published in these pages, I have attempted to show that a strategy of engagement with Islamist groups abroad (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) has been allowed to seep into the government's dealings with Muslims in Britain.

Last week, the Foreign Office wrote to Channel 4 to ask for cuts to the programme, supposedly to protect a member of staff who had received death threats, although it gave no details. Further cuts were demanded over references to a controversial Bangladeshi politician.

As we go to press, Channel 4 has been admirably robust in resisting such a crass attempt at censorship. It is essential that the media not be prevented from airing the concerns expressed, mostly from within the Muslim community, about the government's insistence on engaging primarily with representatives of a narrow, austere version of the faith, rather than reaching out to the full and diverse range of Muslim opinion.

Martin Bright's documentary Who Speaks for Muslims? will be shown on Channel 4 on 14 July at 7.30pm.
www.newstatesman.com/brightsblog