Ed Milband addresses Labour Party conference, 2012. Photo: Getty
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Labour's young people manifesto keeps the promise of Britain alive

The launch of Labour's groundbreaking young people manifesto today is further evidence of Ed Miliband's determination to put the future of the younger generation at the heart of this election campaign.

The launch of Labour's groundbreaking young people manifesto today is further evidence of Ed Miliband's determination to put the future of the younger generation at the heart of this election campaign.

This generation of young people are energetic, creative and leading a new era of innovation. They believe in personal responsibility but are crying out for a Government which is on their side. They have been abandoned by a Tory party which has nothing to say to young  people and the Lib Dems whose broken promises have not only damaged their own support but massively corroded trust in politicians and the capacity of politics to make a difference. Too many young people are weighed down by debt and held back by insecure work with little prospect of career progression. Home ownership is a distant dream. One young person said to me recently echoing the sentiments of many, "I've worked hard and done everything right, but I'm stuck in a rut and don't feel good about the future."

Labour's manifesto, a Better Future for Young People, addresses these issues with an overriding commitment to restore the promise of Britain that each generation should do better than the last.

It is plan to support for young people pursuing their ambitions and fulfilling their potential –

to give them a stronger voice in shaping the decisions which affect their lives and our democracy.

One of the clearest illustrations of how this government is failing young people is the growing number of careers and professions which are effectively closed shops, only accessible to young people who have significant financial means or family support – “the Bank of Mum and Dad”.  This deeply entrenched unfairness is seen in the internships offered in highly sought-after sectors like the arts, media, fashion and finance, where young people are expected to work unpaid for months at a time. This means those without financial support are locked out of opportunities. It is partially responsible for the alarming stalling of social mobility in Britain, It cannot be in the interests of British business to limit their talent pool now and fail to invest in the next generation of workers.

Building on the excellent work by Labour's Shadow Minister for Universities, Liam Byrne, Ed Miliband is announcing today that an incoming Labour Government will legislate to ensure that anyone undertaking work experience for more than four weeks should be paid at the very least the minimum wage.

We are confident this will be supported by the vast majority of responsible employers, many of whom already do the right thing. As with current legislation governing the minimum wage, people undertaking voluntary work will not be affected.

Labour’s Manifesto for Young People was drawn up after extensive engagement with young people across the country through our Shape Your Future campaign. It addresses many of the issues they tell us are holding them back and making them feel insecure about the future.

 Other measures being announced today include:

  •  Reducing graduate and national debt, by cutting tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 and increasing student maintenance grants by £400
  •  Guaranteeing high quality apprenticeships for all school-leavers that get the grades.
  •  Making work pay by banning exploitative zero-hours contracts, and raising the National Minimum Wage to more than £8 by October 2019.
  •  Investing in the jobs of the future and showing our commitment to climate change by making Britain a world leader in low carbon technology over the next decade, creating a million more green jobs.
  •  Ensuring no young person is left behind, by guaranteeing a paid starter job with training to all those unemployed for more than a year.
  •  Tackling rising housing costs, by building more homes, helping first time buyers and legislating for longer and more affordable tenancies in the private rented sector.
  •  Strengthening the voice of young people by giving 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote.
  • With polling day three weeks away, Labour is once again challenging conventional wisdom in this election.

We are focusing on the hopes and ambitions of young people, not writing them off as disengaged and disillusioned. By doing so, we are recognising that only by utilising the talents of all young people will Britain succeed in the future. We are backing young Britain but also the parents and grandparents who have devoted their lives to ensuring their children and grandchildren have better life chances than they had.

Labour's young people manifesto can be read in full here.

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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution