How Labour is re-engaging non-voters

The party is responding to the sense that governments are powerless in the face of vested interests.

My election as the MP for Manchester Central has the unfortunate record of being the lowest turnout for a by-election, indeed any election, since the Second World War. In my constituency, turnout is particularly low in areas with high numbers of young people and students like Hulme and Ardwick.  

Our politics is broken, with turnout falling and people disengaged and switched off from politicians and the political process, but do developments over the last few weeks offer a turning point?

I’m part of the People's Politics Inquiry, the Labour Party's policy review on political engagement, I have been keen to speak to younger voters, or non-voters in most cases. What I've found, while not unsurprising, is telling and is making me re-think how I do things, and how we as a Pprty could start to address some of the issues.

I arranged to visit a Street League group of young people in my constituency to engage them in a discussion.  Street League is a charity which uses football to get 16-25-year-olds into work and training. Only one of the eight lads I met had ever voted but he couldn’t remember who for or why. At first they were sceptical about meeting and hearing from an MP. but what quickly unfolded was a highly political and informed discussion. They were intensely interested and knowledgeable in what was happening in their own communities, as well as national issues.  

Their views of politicians were familiar: we are all the same; we avoid answering questions; we don't look and sound like them; we don't understand their lives.  Even though these are familiar refrains, it's still depressing. On politics more generally, they don't vote or participate quite simply because they don't see politics as a vehicle for change.

They found me different to their perceptions of a politician but they still didn’t see me as being able to deliver change for them. They didn’t see that the choice of which party was in power mattered for their communities. They wanted to see politicians and parties rooted in their communities. Physically present amongst them, not just on the airwaves or on social media. 

The group felt that politicians were part of a cosy club, which ensures that all their interests are looked after while everyone else pays the price. 

I take from my conversations that, yes, we must continue efforts to diversify our stock of politicians, but, perhaps importantly, we need to encourage and help create a political culture that allows for difference, for greater freedom to be outspoken and to live normal lives with their inherent mistakes. This isn't just a challenge for political parties but also for those who follow and report on politics. That’s why Ed Miliband’s stance on the Mail is such an important marker. Politicians and their families must be allowed to have lives.

On policy, we need to be bigger and bolder in our politics. The lads from Street League articulated what many others feel: that the power of politics and governments is increasingly limited in the face of vested interests – global financial markets, big business, train and energy companies and so on. Ed Miliband's ambitious challenge to these cosy clubs, as he showed with the energy companies last week, is very important here. We must continue to flesh out a bold policy programme across a range of areas as we build on what has the potential to be a powerful and popular cause.

Ed Miliband is on to something. I will continue my dialogue with non-voters to see how they respond to this new direction as we build towards the general election and beyond, taking action for the many against the vested interests of the powerful. 

Delegates walk past a banner outside the Labour conference on September 23, 2013 in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education. 

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Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.