Khairy, 34, said the movement and BN should instead focus on improving their performance and delivery of services to the people.
In this, he stepped off the path beaten by his predecessor, Hishammuddin Hussein.
Concluding a three-part interview, Khairy also referred to the BN Youth Lab project, which aims to find solutions to problems faced by the younger generation.
Excerpts of the interview follow. The content has been edited for language and brevity.
Malaysiakini: Umno Youth is usually viewed as being outspoken in politics, but some perceive that you are not living up to this image.
Khairy Jamaluddin: Times are changing and Umno Youth cannot solely be seen as doing a political job. This is a new political era in which emphasis should be given to values, performance and delivery. This is in line with what Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said. Our job is not solely (in) politics.
I want to bring a new culture into Umno where the focus is on delivery and solutions, not rhetoric. I have no problems with rhetoric. If you ask me to go to the Australian High Commission to protest, it's not a problem, (laughs) but this should not be the only thing we do. We must bring about something new.
Today's political age is based on ideas, not sentiment. The time for rhetoric is over. I realise that the mainstream media writes as if it is criticising me as being lesu (weak). The word has been used on past Youth leaders like (Mohd) Nazri (Abdul Aziz), (Ahmad) Zahid Hamidi, Hisham(muddin) Hussein. If you do not demonstrate, you (are deemed to be) weak. (But) I think that era is finished.
Now is the time to (use) our wits and mind, not just to shout. I do not have a problem with (demonstrations) but times are changing. I respect those who have demonstrated in the past, but my message is that times are changing...If you want to maintain the old ways, then you can join Perkasa.
People see you as a person who has undergone a complete transformation. When you were deputy Umno Youth head, you seemed to be extreme, but now you are seen as being liberal to all races.
That is because I am the leader (laughs). I feel that the buck stops here with me. In the past there was leeway, as I shared a partnership with Hishammuddin. But now, I am Umno Youth chief and I have to not only be a leader for Umno but also BN. Hence, the outlook that I bring must be accepted by all especially after the PM brought up the idea of 1Malaysia.
I tell my BN counterparts that, in the past, the benchmark for Umno Youth was how far it could go in being radical. Now I say we must remain radical, but 'centrist radical'. If people come up to me and say I am not radical, I will reply I am 'centrist radical'.
The comment has been made that you are active within BN but not in Umno.
I have not disregarded Umno as it is the anchor party for BN. This is something which cannot be denied. But if you look at my schedule I go to more Umno activities then to BN ones. However, at the national level, we have to put BN at the forefront as that is our brand. It is the ticket on which we contest in the general election.
Are MCA and MIC so weak that Umno has to lead them?
It is not a problem of the component parties. The notion that Umno wants to take over the roles of MCA or MIC does not arise. Every party has its share of problems. Now it is the MCA and MIC. Who knows it could be Umno next, God forbid!
There is no party which can say it is immune (to problems). We are a political party not a Parent- Teacher Association. What is important is that we must move as a team regardless of any problem. We should stand together through thick and thin.
You have many ideas and are like an admiral leading a fleet, but you are seen as somewhat of a lone ranger.
I see the members are trying to understand the new politics which I try to bring. It is difficult to change the political DNA which has been in place for a long time. I get my lesson and inspiration from the PM who brought about the 1Malaysia concept. But it requires some adjustment among Umno members themselves. If in the past, members were Umno-centric, then 1Malaysia requires us to be Malaysia-centric. We need time...Najib (left) and I are committed to this change of political DNA.
Do not get me wrong. Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted in his final year as Umno president that change among Malays was the most difficult task. So you cannot expect major change when Najib has been PM for only a year, just as I have been leading the movement for a year.
In your speech during the Umno Youth assembly you emphasised the need to adopt a centrist approach and so on. But how do you plan to change the mindset of Umno Malays?
It must start with the leader. Change is driven from the front. But I also note that even the best of ideas will go to waste if the rank-and-file are not receptive. It would result in me being seen as an ineffective leader who cannot manage.
There must be commitment and there must be training which focuses on a centrist Malaysia and on 1Malaysia. The PM also has stressed this at Umno meetings.
It is not that we have do away with the Malay agenda, but we want to further the agenda to the point where Malays can be confident about themselves. It is not about giving false hope by providing various tongkat (walking sticks). We must give hope to Malays that they can ... compete in a borderless world.
One initiative in addressing problems affecting youth is the formation of the BN Youth Lab. What's this all about?
The idea was mooted when I led the Umno Youth exco in calling on the PM last month. He suggested that we create a lab as a mechanism to better understand issues relevant to the younger generation. It is an exercise in creating touch-points between the government and the youths, in formulating youth-friendly policies. The project began this month and will run for three months.
The lab will be conducted in a manner similar in some respects to the National Key Result Area Labs, but with modifications. BN Youth will deal with issues of education or unemployment, for example. The lab will engage a cross-section of youths.
At its core, the lab will consist of 20 permanent members below the age of 40, and who are from different segments of the youth population. They will discuss, debate and brainstorm for about a month, to come up with ideas and proposals. Throughout this process, the lab will engage with relevant ministries and departments to ensure that ideas churned out are workable and feasible.
But participation in the lab is much more comprehensive than just 20 heads thinking about potential youth-friendly policies. We will employ social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with youths of various backgrounds, ages and political affiliations. From surveys and polls conducted both online and via telephone, we can better gauge the aspirations of young people.
The second phase will comprise focus groups made up of individuals not directly involved in the first phase of telephone surveys and of brainstorming. The focus groups will be a means through which we stress-test ideas proposed by the lab - these groups will be invaluable in informing us whether the proposals are appropriate or otherwise.
The lab will also organise a number of town-hall meetings, where young professionals, youth leaders and relevant ministers or department representatives can interact to resolve the issues.
For instance, we might find out that housing is a particularly important issue for many who have just graduated and wish to start a family, but cannot afford to own a house. The lab can recommend a special scheme - say a scheme which provides a special loan facility for recently married young couples with a stable source of income, so that they can purchase a house. (This would be needed) especially (for those) in urban areas.
We will continuously engage and stress-test our proposals and ideas... the BN Youth Lab aims to be solutions-based, so whatever we propose in the final report must be a product of vigorous examination at all levels. However, we cannot expect the lab to resolve all youth issues.
How would the lab address issues linked to the standard of living and education?
The process is very important. Lab members must discuss and propose solutions based on relevant data, statistics and government policies that are in place.
The brainstorming sessions must be conducted in a context where the individuals involved are equipped with appropriate knowledge to speak on the issues. We must avoid the habit of some Malaysians who hold very hardened opinions but from a position of ignorance. Even in Parliament, this is often the case.
As the lab is solutions-based, we are working towards policy proposals that address the issues and problems of the youths, but these must also be ideas that are workable. To that end, it is imperative that any policy proposal suggested in the lab is taken to the relevant stakeholders for feedback.
One problem is that wages in Malaysia are low...
From the employers' perspective, there will not be an increase in wages if it does not correspond with a rise in productivity. We understand the employers' (stance), that wages will be raised when productivity or skills increase.
The problem as the PM has mentioned is we are in the middle-income trap. Pay is stagnant and our skills are nothing to shout about. So how can employers pay higher wages if we do not show higher competitiveness and productivity?
In Parliament I have mentioned that we are caught in the vicious cycle of mediocrity. Wages are not rising, people do not possess skills. This is our problem and when inflation (rises)... we cannot do anything. A long-term solution is to increase productivity by improving the education system and training, which should be a lifelong process.
Another way is to implement a minimum wage in certain sectors. It is something which I initially did not accept on an ideological basis. However, if implemented in certain sectors, it may not distort the market. I also recognise that we need to raise the disposable income of the lower- and middle-income people.
If we can free the government of subsidies, we can ensure this can be channelled to them (the poor so that they have) higher disposable income. Eighty percent of the population have a disposable income of RM3,000 or less.
For youth who are starting out, wages could be less than RM1,500. It is insufficient, as they have to repay loans on the house, car and education. What is left is almost nothing. There will be no savings. The government can assist by taking funds from the subsidies, which are used to finance unproductive activity, and channel these to people to stimulate consumption.
The era where people rely on the government to drive the economy has ended. The government can no longer spend, as it will result in expansion of the budget deficit. We must implement new government intervention directed at increasing the capacity of the productive workforce to stimulate consumption.
Some political parties may question why BN is given preferential treatment. Why not extend this to others?
I welcome other parties to come up with similar labs and engage with the various ministries and agencies. I shared my ideas with Koh Tsu Koon (minister in the Prime Minister's Department) and he has co-operated with us. There is nothing political. We do not seek government assistance or funds but are merely churning ideas which can be given serious consideration. The opposition can do the same, we do not have a problem with that.
As the Umno Youth head, you have not been offered a ministerial post. What do you have to say about this?
I am still a kid and hence, (need) guidance. People mistake it as a convention or a right to be appointed minister. (But this) is at the pleasure of the PM.
I do not have a problem. Its not a problem for me, so why it should be a problem for you? Furthermore, I am still young at 34 (laughs).