Getty Images.
Show Hide image

To end the Tories' assault on the young, Labour must get back into power

Activists should draw inspiration from the party's achievements in 1997-2010. 

Today I’m looking forward to meeting our young members as they prepare for a raft of elections and debates in the Labour youth movement. Our young members have come from far and wide across the country to sunny Scarborough – where their minds will be on far more important matters than picking up sticks of rock or heading down to the beach.

Since May, the number of young people in the Labour Party has nearly tripled. We now have over 55,000 young members – a figure which dwarfs the youth membership of other parties. But now, under a Tory majority government that no one saw coming, it has never been more important for young people to get involved in politics, and stand up for what they believe.

We are Labour because we believe that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, should have access to the ladders that can help them move up in the world. Just this week we saw figures from the Sutton Trust, showing 71 per cent of military officers, almost two thirds of top doctors and about half of leading journalists went to private schools – which only 7 per cent of the country has the privilege to attend. David Cameron talks about social mobility, but where is the evidence that this generation of young people will be able to get on in life, whatever their background?

The Tories are hitting young people hardest; with wages low, maintenance grants for the poorest students scrapped, and voter registration rules cynically changed to lock young people out of democracy. The number of young people owning their own home is at its lowest level since records began. University tuition fees have trebled. 853,000 young people are not in employment, education or training. The proportion of people in zero hours contracts is three times higher for young people than for other age groups. 

Labour introduced EMA and worked so hard to get 50 per cent of school-leavers into university - so that, whoever you are, and whatever your background, you had the support and foundations to make your way in the world. In the last government they came for FE students, scrapping EMA and trebling tuition fees. In this Parliament they are coming after poorer students by scrapping maintenance grants, and they don’t think that under-25s deserve a living wage. We know that FE and HE aren’t the only way to get on in life – but only 5 per cent of 16 year olds currently go on to do an apprenticeship.‎ 

But if you are a young person reading this, thinking how unfair it is that your needs seem to be completely ignored by the government – just wait until you see how little they care when you don’t even have a vote at the election. They have taken away the ladders for you to get on in the world, now they are coming for your democratic voice.

We meet in a week where we learned that 1.4 million people have fallen off the electoral register since the rushed changes to voter registration, with young people and student areas some of the worst affected. Some 40 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds who would soon have been eligible to vote for the very first time have disappeared from the electoral register in the last two years, due to the Tories’ hasty, partisan changes. 

That’s why I have written to the government to ask them to do more to encourage voter registration in schools and universities. Please register now and do all you can before May’s elections and the June EU referendum to encourage friends, family members and anyone else you come across to register.

Our young activists will be enjoying themselves this weekend, making good friends and exploring their own and others’ views. But they will all agree on one thing. The most important task any young activist has – the thing that will make all the difference to their own life chances and those of their peer group - is getting rid of this terrible Tory government. The only way we can change things in this country is by getting into power – just think of everything we achieved from 1997-2010. EMA, civil partnerships, redistribution of wealth, lifting people out of poverty, the minimum wage, better pay for public sector workers…the list goes on and on.

I hope that our young members will be shouting from the rooftops about what we achieved then, and then hitting the doorstep to show our determination to do even more in 2020. Labour people, young and old, must do everything they can in the months ahead to win May’s elections and change lives across the country.

Gloria De Piero is Labour MP for Ashfield. 

Getty
Show Hide image

Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.