Labour prodigy Weal feels the backlash after speech
Teenager who wowed the Labour conference becomes the whipping boy of the right-wing press
TWO DAYS after he wowed the Labour conference with an articulate and impassioned speech in defence of the welfare state, 16-year-old Rory Weal is experiencing the downside of life as a precocious young political wannabe.
Although he was feted by delegates in Liverpool, the right-wing press has been less impressed and has rounded on the teenager. Indeed their hostile reaction has made Weal probably the most talked-about teenager to address a party conference since blonde-haired prodigy William Hague electrified the Tory party in 1977, when he too was just 16.
On Monday a remarkably composed Weal stole the show as he told the conference hall: "Two-and-a-half years ago, the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed. We had nothing, no money, no savings. I owe my entire well-being and that of my family to the welfare state. That is why I joined the Labour Party, but that very same welfare state is being ruthlessly ripped apart by a vicious and right-wing Tory-led government."
But he has not been allowed to get away with such pronouncements that easily.
First out of the blocks was, unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail which today ran a two-page story highlighting Weal's life as the "privileged son of a millionaire property developer". It gleefully revealed that he attended Colfe's, a private school in south London, before his father hit hard times in 2008. It reports that even now he is a pupil at a grammar school in Maidstone - the kind of school the Labour party opposes.
Earlier, the paper's attack-dog columnist Melanie Phillips accused Weal of spouting the "the mantra of hate that gives the left its entire purpose in life", namely branding the Tories vicious and right wing. His claims to owe everything he has to the welfare state "should have chilled the marrow", she added.
In the Telegraph, which also took great delight in exposing Weal as "the son of a company director", columnist Cristina Odone was also at pains to point out that Weal was a grammar school pupil from Maidstone. She said that if party delegates had known he was a grammar school boy, the "cheers would have turned into hisses. Because his is precisely the kind of selective education Labour abhors".
Writing in the same paper Neil O'Brien, the director of Policy Exchange, said Weal had showed considerable talent in his speech but noted that he was getting "a bit of stick" from bloggers over his background. He then went on to say the teenager was completely wrong to say that the coalition's policies would have prevented his family from getting support from the welfare state.
Even the Guardian seemed a little bit embarrassed by Weal's pronouncements. Patrick Barkham commented: "Never mind inhaling or posting sexy pictures on Facebook, the youthful indiscretion that really kills a promising political career is when a teenager dons a suit and addresses the nation... Precocity is hailed in music and maths but people find it creepy in politicians."
It took Hague more than 30 years to lay the tag of annoying prodigy to rest: Weal may face a similarly long wait. ·
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